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Battambang Court Fast Tracks Conviction of Longan Farmer

FILE - Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen delivers a speech at the port of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, Friday, Feb. 14, 2020.

A Battambang farmer was arrested earlier this week and convicted on Wednesday for incitement for criticizing the implementation of a proposal by Prime Minister Hun Sent to procure longan fruit from farmers who were affected by export issues.

The prime minister had ordered the Bodyguard Unit on August 17 to procure longan from smallholder farmers after China blocked exports from Thailand, halting purchases of Cambodian longan by Thai buyers. The farmer criticized this ad hoc procurement and allegedly attempted to incite people.

Duong Saran, a spokesperson at the Battambang Provincial Court, said the defendant Nguon Ly, who also goes by Phat, was convicted on Wednesday for incitement and sentenced to 10 months in prison.

The longan farmer was arrested earlier this week and the Battambang court unusually fast-tracked the conviction.

A video posted to the Battambang Provincial Police’s Facebook page on Tuesday shows Nguon Ly apologizing for posting videos criticizing the prime minister and longan procurement process. But he denied inciting anyone.

“I apologize to the royal government, to the head of the royal government for what I said. I apologize to ‘samdech’,” he said, using an honorific used for Hun Sen.

“I posted this not to incite, but I just wanted to help the farm owner. I am afraid that no dealer is coming to buy on time,” he said in the video posted by the Battambang police.

Videos posted to Nguon Ly’s Facebook page on August 22 show him criticizing dealers who were meant to buy the longan from another farmer. He said the buyers were being picky about buying the longan and, in another video, that one buyer asked his farmer friend to first pack the fruit in plastic and then wanted them in a box.

“The government doesn’t want to buy. They [want to] deceive,” he said in the video posted on his Facebook page.

The other farmer, who Nguon Ly mentions, is seen in the Battambang police video but was released without being charged.

Chak Sopheap, who heads the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the case showed the continued misuse of the incitement charge and the government’s failure to intervene in an effective way to help distressed farmers.

“The continuation of using incitement charges against people is not good for Cambodia as a democracy,” said Chak Sopheap.

Theng Savoeun, president of the Coalition of Cambodia Farmer Community, supported the Cambodian government's initiative to buy longan from farmers to provide them short-term relief. He said the government should work to find better markets and investments for longan farmers.

“The state must solve the concerns and issues strategically, such as setting up a system to [ensure] proper local and overseas markets and demand,” he said.