Cambodia: Arbitrary arrest of three Mother Nature activists

09/09/2020
Urgent Appeal

KHM 002 / 0920 / OBS 101
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment
Cambodia
September 8, 2020

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Cambodia.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment against three environmental activists and members of “Mother Nature”[1], namely Mr. Thun Ratha, Ms. Long Kunthea, and Ms. Phoun Keo Reaksmey, for denouncing the exploitation of Phnom Penh‘s Bueng Ta-mouk lake. The project aims to build a military base, which will destroy the habitat of many bird species and damage biodiversity, and is also expected to cause significant flooding in Phnom Penh.

According to the information received, on September 3, 2020, Ms. Long Kunthea and Ms. Phoun Keo Reaksmey were arrested by police in Phnom Penh as they were about to walk from Wat Phnom to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house in order to request a meeting with the Prime Minister to share their concerns over a number of environmental issues, including the development of Bueng Ta-mouk lake.

On the same day, Mr. Thun Ratha was arrested at his home in Khan Pur Sentchey District, Phnom Penh, by around 25 police officers, who surrounded the property for approximately two hours before arresting him. The police padlocked the property shut and left a letter displayed on the door informing that the operation was taken on the grounds that Mr. Thun Ratha “published the information without legal permission”, without specifying which information was published or what the legal grounds were for requiring permission over such a publication.

On September 6, 2020, the three were charged with “incitement to cause societal chaos” (articles 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code) and placed in pre-trial detention. They could face up to two years in prison. Mr. Thun Ratha was taken to the Correctional Center 1 while Ms. Long Kunthea and Ms. Phoun Keo Reaksmey were taken to the Correctional Center 2.

The Observatory reiterates its deepest concern about the fact that Cambodian authorities regularly use legal harassment and the politicised judicial system to target land and environmental activists[2], and recalls in particular that this is not the first time that Mr. Thun Ratha and other Mother Nature activists have faced harassment[3].

The Observatory strongly condemns the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Mr. Thun Ratha, Ms. Long Kunthea, and Ms. Phoun Keo Reaksmey, which seem to be only aimed at punishing them for their legitimate environmental and human rights activities, and urges the Cambodian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release them.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Cambodia to urge them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Mr. Thun Ratha, Ms. Long Kunthea, Ms. Phoun Keo Reaksmey, and all other human rights defenders in Cambodia;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Thun Ratha, Ms. Long Kunthea, and Ms. Phoun Keo Reaksmey, since their detention is arbitrary as it seems to be merely aimed at punishing them for their human rights activities;

iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Mr. Thun Ratha, Ms. Long Kunth Ms. Phoun Keo Reaksmey, and all other human rights defenders in Cambodia, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

iv. Conform in all circumstances with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular its Articles 1, 6 and 12.2;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights instruments ratified by Cambodia.

Addresses:

· Mr. Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: leewood_phu@nida.gov.kh / cppparty@gmail.com
· Mr. Sar Kheng, Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: moi@cambodia.gov.kh
· Mr. Ang Vong Vathna, Minister of Justice of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: moj@cambodia.gov.kh
· Mr. Prak Sokhon, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: mfaic@mfa.gov.kh / mfaicasean@mfaic.gov.kh
· Mr. Suon Visal, President of the Cambodian Bar Association. Email: info@bakc.org.kh
· Ambassador Mr. Ney Samol, Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: camemb.gva@mfa.gov.kh

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Cambodia in your respective countries.

***
Geneva-Paris, September 8, 2020

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39
· Tel FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18


[1]Mother Nature is an environmental rights grassroots organisation that was officially de-registered in September 2017, but continues its activities as a movement of concerned citizens.
[2]For more information, see Observatory report, Down but not out. Repression of human rights defenders in Cambodia , published on July 9, 2020.
[3]For more information, see among others Observatory Urgent Appeals KHM 001 / 0617 / OBS 065, published on June 16, 2017 ; KHM 004 / 1115 / OBS 094.1, published on July 4, 2016; KHM 002 / 0917 / OBS 100.1, published on January 26, 2018.

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