Cambodia: CSOs condemn the unfair conviction of Mother Nature activists San Mala, Try Sovikea and Sim Somnang

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    While we, the undersigned civil society organizations (“CSOs”), welcome the long overdue release of Mother Nature activists San Mala, Try Sovikea and Sim Somnang, we strongly condemn their conviction for acting as instigators to the offence of ‘threatening to destroy property accompanied by an order’ under Articles 28 and 424 of the Cambodian Penal Code. The three activists were sentenced to 18 months in prison and released today, with the remainder of the sentence suspended, having already served ten months and 15 days in pre-trial detention. The three activists were also given a fine of 2 million riel (USD $500) and ordered to pay unwarranted compensation of 100 million riel (USD $25,000) to Direct Access, the sand dredging company that initially brought a criminal complaint against the activists.

    The convictions relate to the events of 26-28 July and 12 August 2015, when Mother Nature activists supported the local community in Andoung Teuk to protest on-going sand dredging, a lucrative export trade which has caused extensive damage to the environment and livelihoods of local communities in the Koh Kong region. The defendants’ legal team told the court that the only evidence relied on by the prosecution was inconclusive video clips and witness testimony from several individuals who were not present at the scene of the alleged crime. One key prosecution witness who was on site gave testimony contradicting an earlier written witness statement. The trial judge was also repeatedly challenged by defence lawyers seeking to protect the presumption of innocence for the three youths. Despite the fact that the three activists were initially charged under Article 424 of the Penal Code only, the trial judge changed the charges at the last minute to convict the three as instigators to the principal offence under Article 28. Such a last-minute change constitutes a denial of the three activists’ right to prepare an adequate legal defence, in violation of their fair trial rights.

    We condemn this unfair conviction and flawed trial process, as well as the unsubstantiated award of compensation. This award of compensation was made despite no evidence being presented in court of any loss suffered by Direct Access, financial or otherwise. We further condemn the unlawful and arbitrary over-detention of the three defendants prior to trial, in excess of the legal limit of 10 months since their arrest on 17 August 2015, in breach of their right to liberty as guaranteed by international human rights law[1].

    Mr. Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, a Spanish citizen and the Director of Mother Nature, has also been charged as an accomplice to the same offense, despite being in effective exile from Cambodia since he was deported on 23 February 2015. We fully support Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson’s repeated calls to be allowed to re-enter Cambodia to face his accuser, in line with his fair trial rights.

    These charges and convictions are the latest in a series of incidents in which the authorities have repeatedly persecuted Mother Nature and its activists, despite the recent statement by four UN human rights experts calling for an end to the escalation of criminal charges, questioning, court proceedings and public statements against civil society and human rights defenders in Cambodia. Unfortunately, the suppression of Mother Nature’s efforts to protect the environment is just one example of the wider on-going crackdown on civil society in Cambodia, and the Cambodian authorities’ intolerance of legitimate peaceful activism.

    We reaffirm the rights and fundamental freedoms of civil society actors to conduct their activities free from threats and punishment, in accordance with the Cambodian Constitution and Cambodia’s obligations under international law, and recall the Royal Government of Cambodia’s acceptance of recommendations made during the second Universal Periodic Review of Cambodia by the UN Human Rights Council, in particular the recommendation to ensure that the right of human rights defenders to conduct their work without hindrance, intimidation or harassment is respected[2].

    We, the undersigned CSOs, reiterate our condemnation of the use of politically-motivated show-trials to curb legitimate activism, and call upon the Cambodian authorities to respect human rights and the vital work of human rights defenders.

    This joint statement is endorsed by:
    No Name of CSOs Name Contact
    1 Affiliated Network for Social Accountability Cambodia (ANSA Cambodia) Mr. San Chey 012 445 642
    2 Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT) Ms. Srey Sotheavy 017 990 371
    3 Bodinh Community Ms. Dy Sophana Marany 012 216 805
    4 Boeung Kak Community Ms. Tep Vanny 012 604 648
    5 Boeung Trabek Community Mr. Khut Bunthan 012 214 237
    6 Borie Keila Community Ms. Chhay Kimhorn 017 522 303
    7 CamASEAN Youth’s Future Mr. Srun Sron 093 600 234
    8 Cambodian Alliance Trade Unions (CATU) Mr. May Sopheaktra 012 351 402
    9 Coalition of Cambodian farmer Community (CCFC) Mr. Theng Savoeun 015 225 088
    10 Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) Ms. Chhay Chhunly 017 528 021
    11 Cambodian Domestic Workers Network (CDWN) Ms. Yim Sothy 078 711 494
    12 Cambodian Food and Service Workers’ Federation (CFSWF) Mr. Sar Mara 016 525 781
    13 Cambodian Human Rights Action Coalition (CHRAC) Mr. Suon Bunsak 092 344 357
    14 Cambodian League for the Promotion & Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) Ms. Pilorge Naly 012 803 650
    15 Cambodian Youth Network (CYN) Mr. Tim Malay 017 990 689
    16 Cambodian Independent Teacher Association (CITA) Ms. Ouk Chayavy 092 81 42 83
    17 Community Legal Education Center (CLEC) Mr. Nhek Sarin 012 800 561
    18 Democracy and Human Rights Organization in Action (DHRAC) Mr. Mok Mai 092 455 807
    19 Equitable Cambodia (EC) Mr. Eang Vuthy 012 791 700
    20 Former Boeung Kak Women Network Community Ms. Im Sreytouch 070 306 607
    21 Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC) Ms. Ros Sopheap 012 627 857
    22 Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF) Mr. Sia Phearum 012 852 325
    23 Indradevi Association (IDA) Ms. Dy Ratha 012 897 161
    24 Independent Democratic Association of Informal Economic (IDEA) Mr. Vorn Pao 012 534 796
    25 Independent Monk Network for Social Justice Venerable Buth Buntenh 016 666 042
    26 Indigenous Youth at Brame Commune, Preah Vihear Province Mr. Lut Sang 097 456 6466
    27 Khmer Youth Association Ms. Sith Hong Eang 017 788 955
    28 Kuoy Ethnic Community at Prame Commune, Preah Vihear Province Ms. Nuon Mun 097 773 7549
    29 Land Conflict Community, Skun Village, Siem Reap Province Ms. Vich Vy 088 229 5297
    30 Land Conflict Community, Krous Village, Battambong province Lun Keila 078 726 723
    31 Land Community, Village I, Sangkat III, Preah Sihanouk Province Ms. Hang Chenda 012 680 435
    32 LICADHO Canada (LC) Mr. Pen Chanborey 017 755 899
    33 Lor Peang Community, Kampong Chhnang Province Ms. Um Sophy 078 705 936
    34 Mother Nature Mr. Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson  
    35 Ponlok Khmer (PK) Mr. Ang Cheatlom 012 517943
    36 People Center for Development and Peace

    (PDP-Center)

    Mr. Seng Rithy 012 603 856
    37 Railway Station, Toul Sangke A Community Mr. Sim Virak 069 907 983
    38 Reach Sey Samaky Land Community, Romchek village, Battambong Province Mr. Keo Sarin 011 360 826
    39 Samakum Teang Tnaut (STT) Mr. Ee Sarom 089 666 036
    40 SOS International Airport Community Ms. Chray Nim 016 536 900
    41 Strey Khmer Organization (SKO) Ms. Arun Reaksmey 012 236 653

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    [1] For further details, see the Legal Analysis of the case published by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights on 21 June 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/297OAF4

    [2] See: Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Addendum: Views on conclusions and/or recommendations, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review, 25 June 2014. Available at: http://bit.ly/296zz6M

    Source: Cambodian Center for Human Rights

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