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Community activists in two provinces subjected to judicial harassment

(CCHR/IFEX) – Ten community activists from two separate and unrelated communities – both of which are involved in land disputes – have been summoned for questioning in the courts of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh respectively.

Six community members from Boeung Kak Lake – an area that is the subject of a long-running and widely-reported land conflict in Phnom Penh affecting as many as 4,000 families – have received summonses for questioning by the Phnom Penh Capital Court of First Instance for allegedly "insulting" and "intimidating" the complainant, Chhay Thirith, who is the Srah Chak commune chief. Srah Chak commune is in Daun Penh district and is one of the areas affected by the land conflict. The names of the activists summoned and the dates they are due for questioning are, as follows: Tep Vanny (7 October), Heng Mom (10 October), Nget Khun (11 October), Duong Kea (12 October), Kong Chantha (13 October), and Tol Sreypov (14 October).

According to an article in "The Cambodia Daily" on 5 October 2011, the summons did not provide any details about when, where and how the residents "insulted" or "intimidated" Chhay Thirith. The six community activists have been vocal representatives of the residents of Boeung Kak Lake and most recently have campaigned for families who have been excluded from a list of families being given onsite relocation at the lake following a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on August 11.

Heng Mom, Duong Kea and Nget Khun are members of three of the families excluded from the relocation order.

The summons of the six activists comes shortly after eight families from Boeung Kak Lake whose homes were demolished on September 16 filed a complaint with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on 4 October, alleging that Shukaku Inc., the private company behind the development of the Lake, the Daun Penh district deputy governor, and three senior members of the Phnom Penh riot police were responsible for the illegal destruction of their homes. According to "The Cambodia Daily", in addition to pursing criminal charges against the firm and the four men, the eight families are also seeking a total of $242,000 in compensation for the loss of their homes.

Meanwhile, in Siem Reap Province, four activists from another community embroiled in a land conflict were summoned to appear in court for questioning. Vech Vy, Pak Rin, Nia Kleuk and In Sin, from the village of Skun, in Tbaeng commune, Banteay Srey district, Siem Reap Province, are due to appear in the Siem Reap provincial court on 6 October for questioning under Article 34 of the 2001 Land Law (the "Land Law"), which states that "any new occupant without title to immovable property belonging to public bodies or private persons shall be considered an illegal occupant".

According to Article 259 of the Land Law, the potential penalty for a breach of Article 34 ranges from a five million to fifty million Riel (approx. US$1200 to US$12,000) fine and/or imprisonment from one to five years.

Vech Vy and his wife, Chhek Sambo, were detained in 2008 for six months on a charge of "Infringement on Private Property" under Article 253 of the Land Law. They were later released based on a lack of evidence to support the charge, which was never actually dropped.

The land dispute in question involves 222 families in two separate villages in Tbaeng commune and an area covering 173 hectares.

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