The Ratanakkiri Provincial Court has summoned a senior Adhoc staffer and eight other people to be present for questioning next month on grounds of “incitement to commit crimes”.
The court warrant, which was signed by Investigating Judge Seng Simsorya on July 8 and obtained by The Post on Tuesday, ordered Pen Bunna, senior land and natural resources officer for rights group Adhoc, to appear at the provincial court on August 6 at 8:30am.
The court warrant said he was accused of “incitement to commit crimes” in Seda commune’s Samut Krom village in Lumphat district on June 22 and 23, 2017, under articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code.
Bunna, 65, told The Post on Tuesday that he is prepared to appear in court, claiming he is innocent of all accusations.
He said he was at a meeting in Phnom Penh on June 22, 2017, while ethnic indigenous communities were patrolling the forest, where they had observed illegal forestry crimes taking place.
Community members filed complaints with local authorities, but no action was taken. The group then filed a lawsuit against the local authorities, but the court did not accept it. Instead, a lawsuit was launched against the villagers.
“The court has summoned me. Indeed, I’m being sued for five alleged offences involving working with the ethnic minority community. However, I’m as yet unclear who filed these lawsuits against me and the villagers.
“Perhaps the local authorities were the ones who filed the lawsuits because they were not happy with the residents protecting forest land,” he said.
Chhorn Phalla, one of the indigenous Bunong villagers who is being sued, said he had nothing to worry about and was ready for a legal battle because he had not done anything against the law.
He said he had enough evidence to testify in court and could also identify those who had colluded to “destroy the forest”.
Phalla claimed the countersuits came after the community filed a lawsuit against the local authorities for failing to clamp down on forest crimes, as well as colluding with Vietnamese nationals to log illegally.
“They [the local authorities] are not happy with us, the protectors of the forest. I think any villager who comes forward to protect the forest are enemies of the authorities,” he said.
Lumphat district governor Nou The said on Wednesday that he did not know if the local authorities had filed the countersuit. He said he would look into the case and then see if further measures could be taken.
“I am unaware of the case. Let me ask our officials first because I am busy taking care of other affairs,” he said.
Investigating Judge Simsorya could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.