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Cambodia: Environmental Activists Sentenced to 6 to 8 Years

Quash All Charges Against Youth-led ‘Mother Nature’

Cambodian environmental activists from the group Mother Nature sit near barricades blocking a street to the municipal court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 5, 2024. © 2024 And Chhin Sothy/AFP via Getty Images

On Tuesday, the Phnom Penh Capital Court handed down a guilty verdict in the criminal trial of 10 activists from Mother Nature, an award-winning, youth-led Cambodian environmental group, on charges that stem from the group’s peaceful environmental activism from 2012 to 2021. At least four of the activists were immediately arrested outside the courtroom, where they were sitting with supporters and calling for a more just court system that defends environmental rights.

The group’s successful campaigns include stopping the Chinese-led construction of a hydroelectric dam threatening an Indigenous community and helping end the largely corrupted business of sand export from the coastal estuaries of Koh Kong, which was destroying the local ecosystem and fishing grounds.

The verdict is devastating for the 10 activists, who face between six to eight years in prison for their efforts to protect Cambodia’s environment. It also sends an appalling message to Cambodia’s youth that the government will side with special interests over the environment every chance it gets.

Arrest warrants were issued for all 10 activists, who were charged under Article 453 of the Criminal Code for plotting against the state. Ly Chandaravuth, Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea, Phuon Keoraksmey, Binh Piseth, Pok Khoeuy, and Rai Raksa were sentenced to 6 years in prison under Article 453.

Sun Rotha, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, and Yim Leanghy were sentenced to 8 years in prison and a 10 million riel fine on plotting against the state and insulting the king under Articles 453 and 437, respectively.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet, like his father, former Prime Minister Hun Sen, has repeatedly ignored calls by United Nations experts to address the closing space for civil society and human rights defenders. Development partners and others who invest in a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment for Cambodia should call on the government to quash these verdicts and support genuine freedom of expression and association.

Four of those convicted — Chandaravuth, Ratha, Keoraksmey, and Kunthea — attended the hearings and were immediately arrested by uniformed and plainclothes personnel following the verdict. A fifth Mother Nature activist convicted, Leanghy, also attended previous hearings but was not present during the arrests this morning.

Gonzalez-Davidson, a Spanish national and Mother Nature’s founder, was not present at the hearings after being banned from entering the country. Four others who were also charged — Ratha, Piseth, Raksa, and Khoeuy — did not appear in court or attend the hearings.

The prosecution and defense completed their closing arguments on June 24 after holding five hearings on the case, one of which was boycotted by the five defendants appearing because the court restricted access to the trial for their supporters and family.

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