A villager representative in a dispute with a company owned by a ruling party senator yesterday said from a Koh Kong prison that he had been brought to commune police by company security guards and there had been no violence during the incident, despite his having been accused by police of “using violence on the property owner”.

Heng Sok, 48, was accused under the Land Management Law after allegedly installing boundary markers on land at the centre of a dispute between 50 families and LYP Group, owned by tycoon and Senator Ly Yong Phat. He has been in pre-trial detention since Sunday, with an NGO and his relative calling for his immediate release.

Sok’s mother-in-law, Tith Ten, 61, visited him in prison yesterday, saying he told her he had installed about eight boundary markers when four LYP Group security guards showed up, asked him to get inside a car and told him they would go to the company to settle the issue.

“But they didn’t go there, they brought him to the police post for questioning and to detain him,” Ten said, adding that after that, commune police sent him to provincial police, where they wrote a report and accused him of a crime he didn’t commit.

“He did not use violence on the company’s security [guards],” she said. “This court case is absolutely wrong, and the court has to immediately release my son-in-law.”

Kim Vanna, Prek Khsach commune police chief, confirmed Sok was brought to his police station by security guards.

Chan Nagry, chief of staff for Ly Yong Phat, also confirmed there had been no violence during the incident, saying that security guards took Sok to the police station simply because he was installing the border markers.

Independent legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said even though the law allows for citizen’s arrests in the event of a flagrant crime, the company shouldn’t allow its security guards to take people to the police station in non-violent situations. He added that installing border markers did not constitute “violence”.

“If there was no violence, [the court] cannot charge him with violence,” he said.

Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, co-founder of Mother Nature, said the tactics by the company are not new.

“The LYP Group has been behind the arrest and judicial harassment of local communities who are willing to stand up and defend their land rights against illegal encroachment for quite some years,” he said. “The aim of this latest jailing is primarily to send a chilling message to the entire community.”