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Court Fines Rights Activist for ‘Defamation’

Villagers in the provinces of Koh Kong and Kampong Speu have alleged that sugar plantations operated by Ly Yong Phat have pushed them off their land.

Kampong Chhang provincial court ordered a human rights worker to pay nearly $1,000 in damages and fines Tuesay, after defamation charges were brought against him by a powerful company.

Sam Chankea, a Kampong Chhnang coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, will pay $750 in damages to the KCD Company, which reportedly belongs to the wife of the Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy.

He was charged with defamation, a criminal charge, in May 2010, after giving an interview to Radio Free Asia on a land dispute between KCD and 64 families who said they were being pushed off nearly 150 hectares of land in Kampong Tralach district.

Provincial judge San Sophat said the verdict was based on Article 305 of the Penal code and that Sam Chankea had openly denounced the company in an interview—tantamount to defamation.

Sam Chankea, who had said the company was abusing the law in a land dispute that had not been decided on, said he will appeal the decision. “The court did not have evidence,” he said.

Two villagers were also charged with defamation, but one has already been released and the other was fined $2,500.

KCD officials declined to comment Tuesday.

However, Chan Saveth, lead investigator for Adhoc, said the decision was “unacceptable and a concern for human rights activists.”

The decision follows a series of court actions against human rights activists from Adhoc and Lichado.