Crime & Justice

HRW calls for release of 3 environmental activists arrested in Cambodia

Bangkok, Jun 22 (EFE).- Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday demanded the Cambodian government release three environmental activists arrested last week in for documenting the dumping of raw sewage into a river.

The nonprofit also demanded the withdrawal of “baseless conspiracy and ‘insulting the king’ charges” against the three, affiliated with the environmental group Mother Nature Cambodia, which was founded by Spanish national, Alejandro González-Davidson.

Lèse-majesté (insulting the king) charges are punishable with between five and 10 years in prison.

The activists were arrested after they filmed sewage in the river near Royal Palace, the Cambodian Center for Human RIghts said.

“The Cambodian government has stepped up its campaign to silence activists peacefully advocating to protect the environment,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director, said in a statement.

Sun Ratha, 26, Ly Chandaravuth, 22, and Yim Leanghy, 32, were arrested on June 16 for allegedly acting under the orders of foreign agitators while working for an illegal organization backed by a foreigner, local media reported, citing a police spokesman.

The three detainees claimed to be acting in the name of the environment, but were in reality collecting information as an excuse to incite the public to oppose or overthrow the government with the help of foreign funding, the spokesman reportedly claimed.

González-Davidson, who was deported to Spain in 2015, demanded on his Facebook page the dropping of the charges against the Cambodian activists “because they didn’t commit any offense.”

“Cambodia’s highly politicized courts mean that the environmental activists charged have no chance of getting a fair trial. Only international pressure on the Cambodian government holds out the possibility of saving these activists from unjust prison sentences,” Robertson said.

The arrest and new charges against members of Mother Nature Cambodia comes after the May 5 conviction of three other environmental activists for “incitement to commit a felony or disturb social order,” with sentences of between 18 and 20 months in prison.

They had been planning a march to protest the filling-in of Phnom Penh’s Boeung Tamok lake.

Two more – González-Davidson and Cambodian activist Chea Kunthin – were also tried in absentia and sentenced to between 18 and 20 months in prison.

Mother Nature Cambodia focuses its activism in the southwest of Cambodia, where in 2015 it managed to block the construction of a hydropower dam in the Areng Valley in Koh Kong by Sinohydro Resources Ltd., a holding company of the Chinese Sinohydro Group.

The nonprofit also managed to get authorities to repeal the licenses of two companies after denouncing the negative environmental impact on local communities of sand dredging in the estuaries of Koh Kong. EFE


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