Activists on the Cambodian mainland have been arrested for allegedly inciting farmers to hate the rich
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Three Cambodian land rights activists arrested on charges of plotting against the government sought to spark a peasant revolution by teaching farmers about class differences between rich and poor, an official said Tuesday.
Theng Savoeun, chairman of the Cambodia Farmer Community Coalition, and his colleagues Nhel Pheap and Than 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 group Am Sam Ath said. Licadho group.
He said conspiracy against the government carries a prison sentence of five to ten years, and incitement to commit a crime carries a sentence of 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 lawyers could not immediately be reached.
However, a statement on Theng Savoeun’s Facebook page reads: “We have tasted all kinds of flavors in this life, but we remain firmly strong because our daily work is not what we have been accused of doing, but basic humanitarian tasks. helping the victims, helping the farmers, helping the community to understand their rights and responsibilities and help them find solutions.”
The arrests in Ratanakiri province come as Cambodia prepares for general elections in July that are certain to return to power the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for 38 years with no tolerance for dissent. The opposition Gyertyafény Party, the only group posing a credible challenge to the ruling party, was denied permission by the National Elections Committee to challenge the vote and is awaiting a decision on its 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 workshop participants, but released all but three, who were charged and remanded on Monday.
Interior Ministry spokesman Gen. Khieu Sopheak said the three were arrested because their activities were illegal and outside of their organization’s main goals, which he said is to teach farmers more productive farming techniques.
He said the workshop instead discussed political issues such as the divide between rich and poor and how to encourage farmers to hate the rich.
“Their lecture was to teach about the peasant revolution, the class division of society.” Khieu Sopheak said. He said the language reflected the ideology the communist Khmer Rouge taught poor farmers, particularly in Ratanakiri province, in the early days of their revolutionary struggle before they took power in April 1975.
The brutal Khmer Rouge regime, ousted in 1979, is blamed for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians through starvation, disease and murder.
Hun Sen joined the Khmer Rouge in 1970 when it was fighting a pro-American government, but left the group in 1977 and allied with a resistance movement backed by neighboring Vietnam.
Land grabs by rich and influential people have been a serious problem in Cambodia for many years. Land ownership was abolished under the Khmer Rouge, land ownership rights were lost, so ownership became a 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 were cronies of the ruling party. Security forces were used to evict tenants from such areas.
Khieu Sopheak said the three mainland activists admitted their crimes during police interrogations, and authorities found evidence of their activities on a computer and in documents from the group’s training workshop.
Farmers from other provinces who supported the three activists defied official harassment and traveled to Phnom Penh to stage a protest in front of the Ministry of Interior demanding their release.
Am Sam Ath, a human rights activist, expressed his concern that the three are facing such serious charges for working on behalf of farmers and their communities. According to him, this could make it difficult to help farmers in the future.
Peck reported from Bangkok.