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Cambodian Environmental Activists Sentenced To Harsh Prison Terms

Ten activists from Mother Nature, a well-known youth-led environmental group in Cambodia, have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to eight years. This decision has been widely condemned by human rights organizations. The activists were charged with plotting against the government, and three were also accused of insulting the king. They have denied […]

Ten activists from Mother Nature, a well-known youth-led environmental group in Cambodia, have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to eight years. This decision has been widely condemned by human rights organizations. The activists were charged with plotting against the government, and three were also accused of insulting the king. They have denied all charges. The trial has faced criticism for its lack of transparency and fairness. Four of the activists were arrested outside the court in Phnom Penh after the verdict which was delivered on Tuesday, while the others were sentenced in their absence.

Amnesty International called the verdict a severe blow to civil society in Cambodia, pointing out that the government is not willing to listen to young environmental leaders. Montse Ferrer, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for research, criticized the government for choosing to jail those who speak out. Human Rights Watch also condemned the government, accusing it of siding with special interests over environmental protection.

Mother Nature, famous for its viral videos and youth involvement, is one of the few environmental groups left in Cambodia, where freedom of speech is becoming more limited. The group has a strong record of activism, including stopping a Chinese-led hydroelectric dam project in Areng valley and exposing corrupt sand export practices in Koh Kong. Their efforts earned them the Right Livelihood Award in 2023 for their brave and engaging activism.

Last year, Cambodia experienced a major political change when long-time leader Hun Sen transferred power to his son, Hun Manet. This transition came after an election that excluded major opposition parties and saw the shutdown of independent media. These political changes have made ut even harder for civil liberties and environmental activism to thrive in the country.

The founder of Mother Nature, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, was deported from Cambodia in 2015 and was also sentenced in absentia. He noted that the court did not clearly explain the charges of plotting against the state. These charges seem to be related to an incident where members recorded pollution runoff into the Tonlé Sap River in 2021. The lese majesty charges were tied to a leaked Zoom meeting discussing political cartoons.

Among those sentenced were Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea, Phuon Keoraksmey, Binh Piseth and Pork Khoeuy, who got six-year prison terms for plotting. Gonzalez-Davidson, Sun Ratha and Yim Leanghy received eight-year sentences for both plotting and insulting the king and were fined KHR 10,000,000 (around £1,900). These harsh sentences highlight the growing repression of environmental activists in Cambodia.

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CambodiaEnvironmental ActivistsMother NatureTDGThe Daily Guardian