Cambodian land activists arrested for allegedly inciting farmers to hate the rich

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Three Cambodian land rights activists arrested on charges of plotting against the government planned to spark a peasant revolution by teaching farmers about class divisions between rich and poor, an official said Tuesday.

Teng Savoun, chairman of the Cambodian Farming Community Coalition, and his colleagues Nhel Phip and Tan Hach were charged Monday by a court in the country’s northeast with conspiracy against the state and incitement to commit a crime, local rights activist Am Sem At said. group Licadho.

He said conspiracy against the government carries a prison term of five to 10 years, while incitement to commit a crime is punishable by six months to two years. He described the allegations as a “message of intimidation” to civil society groups.

The three suspects could not be reached for comment, and their attorneys could not immediately be reached.

However, a statement on Theng Savoeun’s Facebook page said: “We have tasted all kinds of flavors in this life, but we remain strong because our daily work is not what they accuse us of, rather we work on basic humanitarian issues. to help victims, to help farmers, to help the community to understand their rights and responsibilities and to help them find a solution.”

The arrests in Ratanakiri province come as Cambodia prepares for general elections in July that are sure to return to power Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party, which has ruled the country for 38 years with little tolerance for dissent. The opposition Candlelight Party, the only group posing a credible challenge to the ruling party, was barred from contesting the election by the National Electoral Commission and expects to rule on the appeal this week.

The three activists were arrested on May 17 after holding a workshop on land rights and other issues affecting farmers in Ratanakiri province. Police detained 17 of the 39 participants in the workshop, but released all but three who were charged and remanded in custody on Monday.

Spokesman General of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Khiu Sofik said the three were arrested because their activities violated the law and were outside the main goals of their organization, which he said was to teach farmers more efficient farming techniques.

He said that instead of the seminar, political issues such as the divide between the rich and the poor and how to make farmers hate the rich were discussed.

“Their lecture was supposed to teach about the peasant revolution, the class division of society.” Khio Sofeak said: He said such language reflected the ideology the communist Khmer Rouge taught poor farmers, especially in Ratanakiri province, in the early days of their revolutionary struggle before taking power in April 1975.

The brutal Khmer Rouge regime, which was overthrown in 1979, is blamed for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians from starvation, disease and assassination.

Hun Sen joined the Khmer Rouge in 1970 as it fought the pro-American government, but left the group in 1977 and allied with a resistance movement backed by neighboring Vietnam.

Land grabbing by the rich and powerful has been a major problem in Cambodia for many years. Land ownership was abolished under Khmer Rouge rule and land titles were lost, making ownership free for all when the communist group lost power. Under Hun Sen’s government, much of the resettled land was declared state land and sold or leased to wealthy investors, many of whom critics say are cronies of the ruling party. Security forces have been deployed to help evict tenants from such premises.

Khiu Sofik said the three land activists admitted their crimes during police questioning and that authorities found evidence of their activities on a computer and in documents from the group’s training workshop.

Farmers from other provinces who support the three activists defied official harassment, traveling to Phnom Penh to protest in front of the Ministry of the Interior, demanding their release.

Human rights activist Am Sam Ath expressed concern that the three are facing such serious charges for working for farmers and their communities. He said it could make it harder to help farmers in the future.


Pek reported from Bangkok.


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