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

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:
NoName of CSOsNameContact
1Affiliated Network for Social Accountability Cambodia (ANSA Cambodia)Mr. San Chey012 445 642
2Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT)Ms. Srey Sotheavy017 990 371
3Bodinh CommunityMs. Dy Sophana Marany012 216 805
4Boeung Kak CommunityMs. Tep Vanny012 604 648
5Boeung Trabek CommunityMr. Khut Bunthan012 214 237
6Borie Keila CommunityMs. Chhay Kimhorn017 522 303
7CamASEAN Youth’s FutureMr. Srun Sron093 600 234
8Cambodian Alliance Trade Unions (CATU)Mr. May Sopheaktra012 351 402
9Coalition of Cambodian farmer Community (CCFC)Mr. Theng Savoeun015 225 088
10Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)Ms. Chhay Chhunly017 528 021
11Cambodian Domestic Workers Network (CDWN)Ms. Yim Sothy078 711 494
12Cambodian Food and Service Workers’ Federation (CFSWF)Mr. Sar Mara016 525 781
13Cambodian Human Rights Action Coalition (CHRAC)Mr. Suon Bunsak092 344 357
14Cambodian League for the Promotion & Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)Ms. Pilorge Naly012 803 650
15Cambodian Youth Network (CYN)Mr. Tim Malay017 990 689
16Cambodian Independent Teacher Association (CITA)Ms. Ouk Chayavy092 81 42 83
17Community Legal Education Center (CLEC)Mr. Nhek Sarin012 800 561
18Democracy and Human Rights Organization in Action (DHRAC)Mr. Mok Mai092 455 807
19Equitable Cambodia (EC)Mr. Eang Vuthy012 791 700
20Former Boeung Kak Women Network CommunityMs. Im Sreytouch070 306 607
21Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC)Ms. Ros Sopheap012 627 857
22Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF)Mr. Sia Phearum012 852 325
23Indradevi Association (IDA)Ms. Dy Ratha012 897 161
24Independent Democratic Association of Informal Economic (IDEA)Mr. Vorn Pao012 534 796
25Independent Monk Network for Social JusticeVenerable Buth Buntenh016 666 042
26Indigenous Youth at Brame Commune, Preah Vihear ProvinceMr. Lut Sang097 456 6466
27Khmer Youth AssociationMs. Sith Hong Eang017 788 955
28Kuoy Ethnic Community at Prame Commune, Preah Vihear ProvinceMs. Nuon Mun097 773 7549
29Land Conflict Community, Skun Village, Siem Reap ProvinceMs. Vich Vy088 229 5297
30Land Conflict Community, Krous Village, Battambong provinceLun Keila078 726 723
31Land Community, Village I, Sangkat III, Preah Sihanouk ProvinceMs. Hang Chenda012 680 435
32LICADHO Canada (LC)Mr. Pen Chanborey017 755 899
33Lor Peang Community, Kampong Chhnang ProvinceMs. Um Sophy078 705 936
34Mother NatureMr. Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson 
35Ponlok Khmer (PK)Mr. Ang Cheatlom012 517943
36People Center for Development and Peace

(PDP-Center)

Mr. Seng Rithy012 603 856
37Railway Station, Toul Sangke A CommunityMr. Sim Virak069 907 983
38Reach Sey Samaky Land Community, Romchek village, Battambong ProvinceMr. Keo Sarin011 360 826
39Samakum Teang Tnaut (STT)Mr. Ee Sarom089 666 036
40SOS International Airport CommunityMs. Chray Nim016 536 900
41Strey Khmer Organization (SKO)Ms. Arun Reaksmey012 236 653

———————-

[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

Click here to download full statement.

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