Part one of a five part series*
Mai was five months pregnant in October 2009 when she was arrested and thrown in jail. She had travelled more than 250km from her homeland in the remote north-west province of Oddar Meanchey to Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, to ask prime Minister Hun Sen to help her community get its land back. For her efforts, she was accused of violating the Forestry Law and dumped behind bars.
A few days earlier Mai had watched helplessly as her home and 118 other houses in her village, Bos, were bulldozed and burned to the ground by a force of some 150 police, military police, forestry administration officials and other individuals villagers believed to be company workers.
In 2008, Angkor Sugar Company was granted a concession over 6,500 hectares encompassing Mai's village. Both the company and the authorities failed to give families living in the area adequate information about the concessions or the status of their rights to their housing and farmland. Families were not consulted about the company's plans or about how they would be affected Ignoring the protests of local residents company workers reportedly began clearing the villagers' rice fields, including Mai's, to plant sugar cane soon after the concession was granted. Mai explains that the workers kept the rice crop for themselves, which left Mai and her community without the staple food that the depended on to sustain them through the year ahead.
The first demolition of village housing occurred in April 2008 and was followed by a campaign of threats and intimidation designed to get the remaining families to leave. Residents said that they were pressured to accept alternative land plots assigned to them by the authorities. If the didn't, they were told they would receive nothing and be put under criminal investigation.
Mai was arrested in Phnom Penh after she attempted to flee from police during the night. Her husband escaped, and she has not heard from him since that night. She has heard that he may be in Thailand, but no one can confirm his whereabouts. She spent the next eight months behind bars, enduring a difficult pregnancy and birth, and struggled to nourish her newborn son despite a diet of dirty and nearly inedible rice. When Mai was brought before a judge, she was told that she would be released if she signed an agreement to withdraw all claims to her land in Bos village and accepted replacement land. Mai signed the agreement and travelled back to Oddar Meanchey. She never received the promised plot of land.
Hoy Mai spoke to Amnesty International on 17 March 2011.
*The full report will be available later this month.