Updated: May 06, 2021 06:59 AM GMT
Environmental activist Phuon Keoreaksmey during a cycling campaign in 2020. (Photo: Mother Nature Cambodia)
Three environmental activists have been jailed for 18-20 months and fined for incitement amid demands for their release and warnings their convictions highlighted a “rapid deterioration” of human rights in Cambodia.
Global civil society alliance CIVICUS said the international community “must not remain silent at this injustice” following the convictions of Phuon Keoreaksmey, Long Kunthea and Thun Ratha from Mother Nature Cambodia on May 5.
“The authorities have in recent years devoted ever more time and energy to weaken and dismantle the human rights movement in Cambodia,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia researcher.
“Those speaking up, even simply for protecting the environment, have faced blatant judicial harassment and at times outright violence. These convictions today are part of this trend.”
The three were detained on Sept. 3 while planning a protest over the filling in of one of the last large lakes in Phnom Penh to create a military base.
They were subsequently charged with incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest under articles 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code and placed then in pre-trial detention. Bail was denied.
CIVICUS said its research showed that laws were routinely misused in Cambodia to restrict civic freedoms
Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, the group’s co-founder who has been deported from Cambodia, and Chea Kunthin, a youth activist, were tried in absentia and also handed jail sentences of 18-20 months and fined US$1,000.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court also issued arrest warrants against Gonzalez-Davidson and Kunthin and ordered the confiscation of material belonging to them.
Mother Nature Cambodia is an environmental rights organization that advocates and campaigns locally and internationally for the preservation, promotion and protection of Cambodia's natural environment.
As part of their work, the organization monitors and challenges gross environmental violations and also raises awareness and educates people by providing training and financial support.
CIVICUS said its research showed that laws were routinely misused in Cambodia to restrict civic freedoms, undermine civil society and criminalize individuals' exercise of their right to freedom of expression.
“Human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists and former members of the banned opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) continue to be targeted,” it said in a statement.
The CNRP refused to accept the results of elections in 2013 when they went tantalizingly close to winning the popular vote. Violent, sometimes deadly protests followed, the party was dissolved and its members fled overseas amid mounting court cases.
Some, including leader-in-exile Sam Rainsy, have also been convicted in absentia and face long jail terms if they ever return, which has outraged civil society groups and prompted the European Union to withdraw some trade perks under its Everything But Arms policy.