Cambodia convicts land rights activists for inciting a peasant revolution – JURIST

On Monday, a court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, convicted four land rights activists of provoking a “peasant revolution”. The activists are part of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC). The Cambodian government charged the activists with plotting against the state for discussing the history of wealth distribution and land rights in Cambodia. The activists were given five-year suspended prison terms.

The CCFC is a membership-based group which started in 2011 and focuses on land rights issues affecting Cambodia’s farmers. Following a meeting last spring on best agricultural practices and farmers’ rights, the police stopped the bus returning to Phnom Penh. There were 37 members of the NGO aboard, including children, and 17 members were detained overnight. A protest soon followed with 200 farmers congregating in the city to defend the CCFC, including the leader’s mother, who publicly pleaded for her son’s release. Radio Free Asia covered the public gathering and said, “Theng Savoeun’s mother, Toch Satt, vowed that she will not leave the premises until her son is freed.”

Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association reported that according to CCFC official Mey Vuthy, “[Kratie police] saw our documents about what we discussed as a group at the hotel, and they asked us why we dared to discuss openly the current situation of Cambodia.” Interior Ministry spokesperson General Khieu Sopheak said that the language the CCFC used “was similar to the brutal Khmer Rouge regime” and was, therefore, dangerous to the state. The leader of the CCFC, Savoeun, was previously arrested by the government in 2014 for participating in a demonstration in Phnom Penh.

Under the current government, land is either controlled by the state or sold to foreign investors. The human rights situation in Cambodia has been a growing concern for the international community. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, the authorities continue to ban or disperse most public demonstrations, while politicians and journalists critical of the government face violence and intimidation and are barred from equal access to the broadcast media. The United States Department of State government reports that Cambodia continues to disregard fraudulent confiscation of farmers’ land, illegal logging, and widespread plundering of natural resources. The international Human Rights Watch reports significant human rights issues in Cambodia, including reports of torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment by the government, and arbitrary detention of political prisoners who speak out against the government. A spokesperson for the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the US report “unfounded, biased, prejudiced and political in nature.”

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