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Cambodian activists refute trumped-up charges in court

They worked to protect the country’s environment while exposing irregularities in development and construction projects
Gibbons eat fruits in a tree in the forest at Angkor Park in Cambodia. The government in the Southeast Asian nation is accused of curtailing efforts to protect the environment

Gibbons eat fruits in a tree in the forest at Angkor Park in Cambodia. The government in the Southeast Asian nation is accused of curtailing efforts to protect the environment. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 30, 2024 11:38 AM GMT
Updated: May 30, 2024 11:52 AM GMT

Five Cambodian environmental activists who faced trial for insulting the Cambodian king have accused the government of leveling trumped-up charges against them.

Eight people were accused of insulting the king, and they all belonged to Mother Nature, an environmental group.

Five of them appeared in a Phnom Penh court on May 29 wearing white clothes in protest and refuted the charges against them, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.

The group works "to protect the environment. We don’t gather people to topple the government or to hate anyone,” one of the accused Yim Leang Hy told the court.

Hy and another activist, Thon Ratha, had shaved their heads to convey their devotion to social work.

All the accused had carried lotus flowers to show they entertained no hatred or desire for revenge.

The other three activists in court for the hearing were Long Kunthea, Phuon Keo Raksmey, and Ly Chandaravuth, who returned to Cambodia last week after a month-long trip to the United States.

European Union diplomats to Cambodia and representatives from the United Nations and several NGOs also attended the hearing.

The environmental group, officially registered with the Cambodian government in 2013, has worked to protect the country’s environment, expose irregularities in development and construction projects, and help villagers organize to protect their land.

Spanish environmentalist Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, the Khmer-speaking founder of the group, was deported from Cambodia in 2015 after the government refused to renew his visa.

Opposition groups and local NGOs have alleged the government expelled him to prevent him from organizing protests against a planned hydropower dam in southwestern Koh Kong province, RFA reported.

Gonzalez-Davidson is among the eight accused in the case and was absent during the trial hearing.

The current case covers several instances of the group's activism, including the 2021 filming of sewage draining into the Tonle Sap River in front of Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace.

Meanwhile, dozens of evicted villagers, youth activists, and monks had gathered near the court with banners that read, “We support Mother Nature” and “Environmental protection is not illegal.”

Ream Srey Pich Ratana, a university student in Phnom Penh, told RFA that she came to show her support for the activists because she felt that the court’s charges were contrary to the group’s efforts to protect the environment.

Presiding Judge Ouk Reth Kunthea scheduled the next hearing in the case for June 5.

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