Phnom Penh Police detain residents photographing land evictionPublished on June 15, 2007
Five residents of Phnom Penh's Dangkor district were detained on the morning of June 7, 2007 after they photographed police while facing a land eviction. The residents were taking photographs of the police while they were executing orders from a letter claimed to be issued by the National Police Chief, Hok Lundy following a complaint made by the alleged land owner Ms Tei Vavanny.
At around 7:00am more than 70 police led by the Phnom Penh municipal commissar and Dangkor district inspector, equipped with guns, electric batons and shields starting dismantling wooden houses on the disputed land in Proka village, Prey Sar commune. At the scene residents had come to confront police and Suon Sarin, a 48 year old farmer, brought along with him a camera to document the eviction. As Suon Sarin took photographs the police restrained him and confiscated his camera. When he attempted to retrieve his camera from the police a scuffle ensued resulting in the police detaining him, his wife, Chey Sokhom, 44, and three other residents Mong Sok Heng, female, 49, Sari Saroeun, 35, and Nuth Vath, 41. During the scuffle the police also allegedly kicked to the ground another resident Kry Chanthy, 27.
After several hours four of the residents were released. Sarin Saroeun and Nuth Vath reported that they were freed only after they were forced to thumbprint and sign a police document. The document stated that they would no longer be involved in the land dispute and that they would not build houses on the disputed land again. Suon Sarin consistently refused to sign the document and only after intervention by NGOs was he released at 4pm.
The land dispute had been on-going since 2003 and affected 257 families covering 5 hectares of land. 199 families had already been paid compensation for their lands while 58 other families still refused to accept compensation, maintaining that the compensation amount undervalued their land. Later the village chief promised to distribute 1 hectare of land to the remaining 58 families, the proposal was accepted however the case is still proceeding in the municipal court.
LICADHO in cooperation with other human rights groups had immediately intervened to the district police calling for the release of all five residents. The Deputy Chief of Dangkor district denied that the police used any violent force against the residents, stating that the police had only just invited the five people to the police station for questioning and clarification.
LICADHO is disturbed by the involvement of the Ministry of Interior and the police in a land dispute which is still proceeding in the courts. Such government authorities should not be involved in the land dispute unless requested by the courts. The apparent abuse of power and involvement of the Ministry of Interior at the request of a land owner is unacceptable and usurps the authority of the judiciary. LICADHO is also concerned that police are using their authority to threaten, intimidate and restrict the residents from being able to document the land evictions.