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Environmental rights defenders of Mother Nature Cambodia convicted

Status: 
Convicted
About the situation

On 5 May 2020, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted and sentenced four environmental rights defenders from the organisation Mother Nature Cambodia, on charges of incitement and causing social unrest. Three of the environmental rights defenders, Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phuong Keorasmey had been held in pre-trial detention since they were arrested on 3 September 2020. Environmental rights defender and co-founder of the organisation, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, was also convicted of the same charges in absentia. The four environmental rights defenders were issued sentences ranging from 18-20 months’ imprisonment.

On 20 October 2020, the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh denied the bail motion against the detention of three human rights defenders from Mother Nature Cambodia; Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phoung Keorasmey.

On 6 September 2020, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged three environmental rights defenders, Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phuong Keorasmey of Mother Nature Cambodia with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest”. The three defenders were arbitrarily detained by Phnom Penh police on 3 September 2020, for organising a planned peaceful march from Wat Phnom to the Prime Minister’s residence, to call attention to the filling in of the Boeung Tamoke lake.

On 3 September 2020, three human rights defenders, Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phuong Keorasmey of Mother Nature Cambodia were arrested by Phnom Penh police. The three defenders had recently been demanding an end to exploitation of the Boeung Tamok lake, one of the last large lakes in Phnom Penh. Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phuong Keorasmey will be presented before the Phnom Penh municipal court on 5 September 2020.

About Mother Nature Cambodia

Mother Nature Cambodia is an environmental rights organisation that advocates and campaigns locally and internationally for the preservation, promotion and protection of Cambodia's natural environment. As part of their work, the organisation monitors and challenges gross environmental violations and also raises awareness, educates and empowers people by providing them with training and financial support. In addition, Mother Nature Cambodia also provides opportunities for environmental and human rights defenders and supports local fishermen and indigenous communities defend their rights.

5 May 2021
Environmental rights defenders of Mother Nature Cambodia convicted

On 5 May 2020, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted and sentenced four environmental rights defenders from the organisation Mother Nature Cambodia, on charges of incitement and causing social unrest. Three of the environmental rights defenders, Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phuong Keorasmey had been held in pre-trial detention since they were arrested on 3 September 2020. Environmental rights defender and co-founder of the organisation, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, was also convicted of the same charges in absentia. The four environmental rights defenders were issued sentences ranging from 18-20 months’ imprisonment.

Mother Nature Cambodia is an environmental rights organisation that advocates and campaigns locally and internationally for the preservation, promotion and protection of Cambodia's natural environment. As part of their work, the organisation monitors environmental violations and also raises awareness, educates and empowers people about the environment, by providing training and financial support to communities. In addition, Mother Nature Cambodia also provides opportunities for environmental and human rights defenders and supports local fishermen and indigenous communities in defending their rights.

Following their arrest on 3 Septmeber 2020,the Phnom Penh Municipal Court had charged Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phuong Keorasmey with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” on 6 September 2020. The following day, 7 September 2020, the Ministry of Interior released a statement accusing Mother Nature Cambodia of “causing chaos in society” and appealed to the public not to participate in any of the group’s ‘illegal’ activities. The three environmental rights defenders were arbitrarily detained by Phnom Penh police, for organising a peaceful march from Wat Phnom to the Prime Minister’s residence on 3 September 2020, to bring attention to the filling in of the Boeung Tamoke lake, which will affect over 300 families who rely on the lake and its resources for their livelihood. In addition to affecting the livelihood of the local people, the government’s ongoing development activities on the lake have already eliminated crucial reservoirs for rainfall, causing severe flooding in the city during periods of heavy rain.

All four environmental rights defenders were charged under Articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code, relating to “incitement to commit a felony or disturb social order”, and fined 4 million riel (approximately 817 Euros) each. Thun Ratha and Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson were sentenced to 20 months’ imprisonment, whilst Long Kunthea and Phuon Keorasmey were sentenced to 18 months in prison. UN experts expressed their concern in response to the arrest of Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phuon Keoraksmey, and other human rights defenders, in a letter to the Cambodian government in November 2020.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Cambodia to quash the conviction of all four environmental rights defenders, and unconditionally release Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phuong Keorasmey, as it believes they are being targeted for their legitimate and peaceful work to protect and preserve the environment and raise awareness about environmental issues. It further urges the Cambodian government to cease targeting Mother Nature Cambodia and its members, and guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in the country are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including police and judicial harassment.

21 October 2020
Bail motion denied to three defenders of Mother Nature Cambodia

On 20 October 2020, the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh denied the bail motion against the detention of three human rights defenders from Mother Nature Cambodia; Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phoung Keorasmey. They were charged with “incitement to commit a felony or social unrest” on 6 September 2020. The charge is based on information they shared on social media about their plans to organise a one-woman march to the Prime Minister’s house to raise environmental concerns over the filling in of the Boeung Tamoke lake in Phnom Penh. The defenders are currently under pre-trial detention at Phnom Penh's Correctional Centres 1 and 2.

8 September 2020
Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phuong Keorasmey charged

On 6 September 2020, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged three environmental rights defenders, Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phuong Keorasmey of Mother Nature Cambodia with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest”. The three defenders were arbitrarily detained by Phnom Penh police on 3 September 2020, for organising a planned peaceful march from Wat Phnom to the Prime Minister’s residence, to call attention to the filling in of the Boeung Tamoke lake.

Mother Nature Cambodia is an environmental rights organisation that advocates and campaigns locally and internationally for the preservation, promotion and protection of Cambodia's natural environment. As part of their work, the organisation monitors and challenges gross environmental violations and also raises awareness, educates and empowers people by providing them with training and financial support. In addition, Mother Nature Cambodia also provides opportunities for environmental and human rights defenders and supports local fishermen and indigenous communities defend their rights.

Since their detention on 3 September 2020, Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phuong Keorasmey had been interviewed by the prosecutor and investigating judge at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. The trio have since been booked with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” under Articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code. Thun Ratha was sent to pre-trial detention in Correctional Centre 1, and Long Kunthea and Phuong Keorasmey were sent to Correctional Centre 2.

Further to this incident, on 7 September 2020, the Ministry of Interior released a statement accusing Mother Nature Cambodia of “causing chaos in society” and appealed to the public to not participate in any of the group’s ‘illegal’ activities.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Cambodia to immediately drop all charges and unconditionally release, Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phuong Keorasmey, as it believes they are being targeted for their legitimate and peaceful work for the protection and preservation of the environment. It further urges the Cambodian government to stop the targeting of Mother Nature Cambodia and, guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in the country are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including police and judicial harassment.

4 September 2020
Three environmental rights defenders arbitrarily detained

On 3 September 2020, three human rights defenders, Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phuong Keorasmey of Mother Nature Cambodia were arrested by Phnom Penh police. The three defenders had recently been demanding an end to exploitation of the Boeung Tamok lake, one of the last large lakes in Phnom Penh. Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phuong Keorasmey will be presented before the Phnom Penh municipal court on 5 September 2020.

Download the Urgent Appeal

Mother Nature Cambodia is an environmental rights organisation that advocates and campaigns locally and internationally for the preservation, promotion and protection of Cambodia's natural environment. As part of their work, the organisation monitors and challenges gross environmental violations and also raises awareness, educates and empowers people by providing them with training and financial support. In addition, Mother Nature Cambodia also provides opportunities for environmental and human rights defenders and supports local fishermen and indigenous communities defend their rights.

On 3 September 2020, environmental rights defender Thun Ratha, and women environmental rights defenders, Long Kunthea and Phuong Keorasmey of Mother Nature Cambodia, were taken into custody separately by Phnom Penh police. Thun Ratha was picked up by police from his home while he was preparing to livestream the single person march that Long Kunthea planned from Wat Phnom to the Prime Minister's house. The purpose of this march was to seek a meeting with the Prime Minister and share concerns over pressing environmental issues including the filling in of the Boeung Tamok lake. Phuong Keoreaksmey was going to accompany Long Kunthea and act as a ‘guest’ in the Live show. However, both women defenders were also detained before they could proceed with the march. While police have not released the details of the charges the defenders are facing, they have accused the group of operating a recording studio without a permit and with distributing “false information” on Facebook.

Mother Nature Cambodia and its members have been vocal on the exploitation of the lake since the government’s move in June, authorizing the Ministry of Defence to fill in around 740 acres of the lake to build a military base, which will affect over 300 families who rely on it for their livelihood. In addition to affecting the livelihood of the people, the government’s existing development activities on the lake have also been eliminating crucial reservoirs for rainfall, causing severe flooding in the city during heavy rains. This authorization to the defence ministry was given despite a 2016 decree signed by the Prime Minister stating the lake as public land and by law, public land cannot be sold or leased unless they have lost their “public interest value.”

Front Line Defenders is deeply concerned by the progressively hostile environment for human rights defenders in Cambodia. Front Line Defenders condemns the arrest of Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phuong Keorasmey, and the targeting of Mother Nature Cambodia, as it believes they are being targeted for their legitimate and peaceful work for the protection and preservation of environmental rights.