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Rights Groups Call for Release of 38 Villagers in Land Grab Cases

Rights groups and other civic organizations made a joint call Wednesday for the release of at least 38 villagers detained following various land disputes across the country.

A forum of rights groups found 121 people were jailed for land disputes in 2007; of those, 38 are still in detention.

Adhoc Director Thun Saray said at a press conference Wednesday that some provincial and municipal courts made civil land disputes into criminal cases in order to jail, demoralize and threaten people into not protesting land grabs or human rights abuses.

"We, civil society, are concerned the arrests were not done according to procedural law, and they affected human rights severely," he said. "We request a speedy release of those imprisoned, because the real number could be more than the current statistics we have, which is 38 people."

Tith Bunchoeurn, a victim of a land grab who was subsequently imprisoned, said he and his siblings were arrested and threatened after they protested the alleged theft of their land.

Authorities "also threatened us not to protest against them, and if we did, they would jail us again," he said.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith declined to comment, saying each land grab case had unique characteristics.