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4 July 2024

Conviction of Mother Nature activists is a blatant attack on activism

CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Front Line Defenders and Asia Democracy Network (ADN) strongly condemn the conviction and sentencing of ten activists on 2 July 2024, associated with environmental group, Mother Nature. We call on authorities to overturn this unjust conviction and end the harassment and criminalisation of activists in Cambodia.

On 2 July 2024, activists Yim Leanghy, Sun Ratha, and Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson were sentenced to 8 years jail today and a 10 million riel (USD 2,434) fine for the offence of ‘insulting the King’ (Article 437) and ‘plotting’ (Article 453) of the Criminal Code. Other activists Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea, Phuon Keoraksmey, Ly Chandaravuth, Binh Piseth, Rai Raksa, and Pork Khoeuy were sentenced to six years jail for the offence of ‘plotting’ and an arrest warrant was issued.

Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, the co-founder of Mother Nature and a Spanish national, was sentenced in-absentia as he has been barred from entering the country since 2015, after being deported for his work protecting environmental rights.

Following the verdict, four of the activists who were present outside the court premises in Phnom Penh were violently dragged and arrested by the police while a fifth was detained separately. The five activists have been sent to prisons, hundreds of kilometres away from their residences and families, in contravention of international standards around the treatment of prisoners.

The conviction of the ten activists is a blatant attempt to silence them and create a chilling effect on those who want to speak up on human rights issues. It is a clear violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Cambodia is a party to. Under the ICCPR, the government has human rights obligations to protect fundamental freedoms and human rights defenders.

The Mother Nature Movement is an environmental group that focuses on defending and protecting Cambodia’s natural resources. They have raised issues around the filling-in of lakes in Phnom Penh, sand mining, illegal logging and the destruction of natural resources across the country, and its members have faced repeated judicial harassment and imprisonment. The group was awarded the 2023 Right Livelihood award for their work, though the members facing charges were prevented by the court from travelling to Stockholm to receive the award in-person.

The charges of ‘plotting’ were initiated against them in 2021 after they documented waste run-off into Phnom Penh's Tonle Sap river, while the charges of insulting the King are linked to a statement made in an online meeting in May 2021. The trial of the activists started on 24 May 2024.

The Cambodian government under Prime Minister Hun Manet continues to stifle activism and civic space in the country by harassing and imprisoning activists, especially those exposing environmental violations. Cambodia should end its reprisals against Mother Nature and other human rights defenders.

Our organisations call for their convictions to be quashed and for their immediate and unconditional release. We also urge the government to halt the use of restrictive laws to criminalise human rights defenders and other activists and repeal all provisions in the Criminal Code that criminalise the exercise of fundamental freedoms in Cambodia.