Mu Sochua took part today, Monday 16th August, in a Press Conference organized in the context of a recent land dispute case (in Kompong Thom Province – see full case description in previous post). Local representative, Lem Nath, has been physically abused and thrown into prison for stepping up in the case of local land grabbing. As Mu Sochua declared, “the Press Conference was held to shine the light on the illegal way she was arrested and the misuse of police power and court illegal mishandling of the case. [Further], the purpose is to educate the public about the law and the false practices by the court.”
Lem Nath, mother of 7 children, has been a village representative since 2007. This corresponds to the year when local residents of Trea and Banteay Stong communes were thrown off their land (which corresponds to 300 hectares and 7 villages, including that of Lem Nath). All declare that they and/or their families have been living and working on this land since 1979. However, in 1983, one private individual “borrowed” the land from the commune. The villagers kept working there until 2007, when they were suddenly told that their land now belonged to someone else. No one knows whom it belongs too.
As local representative, wanting to help the villagers to protect their land, Lem Nath stepped in, taking the leadership role on her own. However, herself barely literate, her second daughter has been a huge help in her work. She helped her organize the gathering of thumbprints, collecting a total of 280, for a document claiming that two Trea commune landowners Heng Seanthay and Touk Bunthorn were selling land. Brought to the local authorities, the document was however rejected altogether. Leam Nath was accused of counterfeiting residents’ thumbprints to inflate the number of signatories. Not only are these accusations groundless but false evidence has also been used. However, Lem Nath was arrested Monday 9th August. When 11 policemen (armed with guns and electric batons) stepped into her home, her and her family were threatened and beatened. The police then yanked her by the hair and dragged her out of the family home, taking her to the police station on motorbike before being sent to Kompong Thom prison where she has been awaiting her sentence. The police had no legitimate warrant. Yet all, Lem Nath, her family and all local villagers who have shown her support face threat from the police. This is a case of total human rights violation and disrespect of criminal procedures.
After this happened last week, Lem Nath’s family, including her three eldest daughers, Hea Sochea, Hea Chanthy and Hea Touch, came for help to MP Mu Sochua, as elected representative, in Phnom Penh. Mu Sochua has organized for them to have a lawyer, obtaining legal and financial support including from the Grassroot Cambodian Women Movement and their recently created Justice Fund for Women.
As the Hea family declared this morning, “We want our mother to be free and appeal for justice […] seeing our mother in jail is hurting us […] we want the policemen to be arrested.” Lem Nath’s daughters and her husband, Yim Hea, came by themselves to Phnom Penh, acting alone for making sure the whole village would not be threatened by the authorities. They are themselves now living at home but in fear, and thus come and stay in Phnom Penh as much as they can.
We are raising funds for Lem Nath’s legal fees. If you would like to donate to her case, please follow this link to donate to Strey Khmer, the organization which arranged the press conference and handles the donations.