Cambodia: Continued harassment faced by Messrs. Sim Somnang, Tri Sovikea and San Mala

09/11/2015
Urgent Appeal
CC/ Mother Nature

KHM 004 / 1115 / OBS 094
Judicial harassment / Arbitrary detention /
Obstacles to freedom of peaceful assembly
Cambodia
November 9, 2015

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

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the continued harassment faced by Messrs. Sim Somnang, Tri Sovikea and San Mala, members of the organisation “Mother Nature”, a local environmental group known for its efforts to stop illegal sand dredging and the construction of a controversial hy­dropower dam in Koh Kong Province.

According to the information received, on November 4, 2015, an investigative judge questioned Messrs. Sim Somnang, Tri Sovikea, and San Mala. The Observatory recalls that the three were arrested on August 17, 2015, for their involvement in protests against a company registered in Cambodia called “Direct Access” accused of illegally dredging sand in Koh Kong Province. The three are accused of “threatening to cause destruction, defacement or damage” and “ordering others to do so,” under Article 424 of the Criminal Code. If convicted, they face up to two years in prison and a fine of 2-4 million KHR (between approx. 450 and 900 Euros) [1].

As of issuing this Urgent Appeal, the three remained detained in Koh Kong provincial prison.

The Observatory notes that members of Mother Nature have been facing intense harassment over the past months. On October 23, 2015, a team of security officials led by a commune chief in Koh Kong Province prevented members of Mother Nature and four students from holding a two-day training session on freedom of expression in Botum Sakor District. Commune chief Hy Tann, who deployed local security guards to shut down the training session, claimed that the group did not have a letter of per­mission allowing them to conduct the training. Mr. Tann confirmed that he had received a letter of notification from the group, signed by one of Mother Nature’s members, but said that it was not sufficient and threatened the group with legal action should they go ahead with the training. Interior Ministry Spokesman Mr. Khieu Sopheak defended the local officials and stated that “authorities have done the right thing, we know that Mother Nature always causes problems and incites people”.

The Observatory strongly condemns the ongoing harassment against Mother Nature, in particular the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Messrs. Sim Samnang, Tri Sovichea, and Sun Mala, which only aim at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities. The Observatory calls on the Cambodian authorities to release them immediately and unconditionally, and drop all charges against them.

Background information:


On August 17, 2015, Messrs. Sim Somnang, Tri Sovikea, and San Mala were arrested in Andong Teuk over their involvement in protests against a company accused of illegally dredging sand in Koh Kong Province. On August 31, 2015, the Koh Kong Provincial Court denied bail to the three defenders.

On August 20, 2015, police in Koh Kong Province raided a house rented by local environmental NGO Mother Nature. About 20 police officers arrived at the Smach Meanchey commune property, but failed to present an arrest warrant. The police checked all of the rooms, took the names of those present, and told them to thumbprint a document, which they refused.

On September 2, 2015, 17 people, including Mr. Ven Vorn, an Areng Valley environmental activist and a community leader for the indigenous Chong minority in Koh Kong Province, were arrested outside Koh Kong Provincial Court. They were protesting to demand the release of the three jailed activists, Messrs. Sim Samnang, Tri Sovichea, and Sun Mala. Mr. Ven Vorn was subsequently released.

On September 21, 2015, the Court of Appeals in Phnom Penh denied bail to Messrs. Sim Samnang, Tri Sovichea, and Sun Mala.

On October 7, 2015, at around 12.20 p.m., Mr. Ven Vorn was rearrested and sent to Koh Kong provincial prison. The arrest followed the decision of Investigating Judge Mr. Min Makara, who had questioned Mr. Ven Vorn the same morning and charged him with “harvesting timber products and/or non-timber forest products without a permit” (Article 98 of the Forestry Law) and “destruction of evidence” (Article 533 of the Criminal Code), as part of another investigation [2].

Both of the above-mentioned charges relate to the construction by Mr. Vorn and a group of local activists of a small visitor centre and community meeting place for local activists involved in a campaign against the proposed construction of a hydropower dam in the Areng Valley. According to activists and environmental groups, the hydropower dam poses a threat to their land, livelihood, and the natural environment. For this project, Mr. Vorn and others had purchased approximately 10 cubic metres of wood from a vendor in 2014, which authorities claimed had been procured by the vendor through illegal logging. At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, Mr. Vorn remained in detention.

Mr. Ven Vorn had been previously questioned on April 3, 2015 at the Koh Kong Provincial Court in relation to the same alleged illegal logging incident before being released on the same day.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Cambodia asking them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Sim Samnang, Tri Sovichea, Sun Mala, and Ven Vorn, as well as of all human rights defenders in Cambodia;

ii. Release Messrs. Sim Samnang, Tri Sovichea, Sun Mala and Ven Vorn immediately and unconditionally since their detention is arbitrary as it only aims at curtailing their human rights activities;

iii. Put an end to all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Messrs. Sim Samnang, Tri Sovichea, Sun Mala, and Ven Vorn, as well as against all human rights defenders in the country so that they are able to carry out their work without hindrance;

iv. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular with its:
- Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or collectively, to promote the protection and fulfilment of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,
- Article 5(a), which stipulates that everyone has the right “to meet or assemble peacefully”,
- Article 12.1, which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
- Article 12.2, which says that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

v. Guarantee the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other international human rights instruments signed or ratified by Cambodia.

Addresses:

· Mr. Hun Sen, Prime Minister, Office of the Prime Minister, 41 Russian Federation Blvd, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 360666 / +855 23 880624 (c/o Council of Ministers), Email: leewood_phu@nida.gov.kh / cppparty@gmail.com
· Mr. Sar Kheng, Minister of Interior, Ministry of Interior, 275 Norodom Blvd, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 212708
· Mr. Ang Vong Vathna, Minister of Justice, Ministry of Justice, 240 Sothearos Blvd, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 364 119
· Mr. Hor Nam Hong, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 161 Preah Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 216144 / +855 23 216141 Email: mfaic@mfa.gov.kh
· Mr. Mak Sambath, President of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, Office of the Prime Minister, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Fax: +855 12 813781 / +855 23 211162 / +855 23 881045 (c/o Council of Ministers)
· Mr. Sok An, Deputy Prime Minister, Fax: +855 23 882065, Email: leewood_phu@nida.gov.kh, info@pressocm.gov.kh
· Ambassador Mr. Ney Samol, Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva, Chemin de Taverney 3, Case postale 213, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 788 77 74, Email: camemb.gva@mfa.gov.kh / cambodge@bluewin.ch

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

Paris-Geneva, November 9, 2015

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

The Observatory, an FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of human rights defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· Email: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax FIDH +33 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
· Tel and fax OMCT +41 22 809 49 39 / +41 22 809 49 29
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