Cambodia: Conviction and sentencing of Messrs. Hun Vannak and Doem Kundy

26/01/2018
Urgent Appeal

New information
KHM 002 / 0917 / OBS 100.1

Sentencing /
Arbitrary detention
Cambodia
January 26, 2018

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

New information:

The Observatory has been informed about the conviction and sentencing of Messrs. Hun Vannak and Doem Kundy, two members of the environmental grassroots organisation ‘Mother Nature Cambodia’, for filming suspected illegal sand dredging activity in Koh Kong Province.

According to the information received, on January 26, 2018, Koh Kong Provincial Court’s Judge Keo Sokha convicted the two environmental rights defenders of charges of “violating privacy” (Article 302 of the Criminal Code) and “incitement to commit a felony” (Article 495), respectively, and sentenced each of them to one year in prison, with a seven-month suspended sentence, and a 1 million riel (approximately 200 Euros) fine. Messrs. Hun Vannak and Doem Kundy have been in pre-trial detention since September 12, 2017 and are expected to be released on February 12, 2018.

The Prek Svay Prison is severely overcrowded, has deplorable sanitary conditions, and lacks basic provisions such as water, food, and medical care. Messrs. Hun Vannak and Doem Kundy are reportedly detained in an extremely cramped 4x4-meter cell, which houses up to 20 other inmates.

Messrs. Hun Vannak and Doem Kundy were arrested on September 12, 2017 in Kiri Sakor District, Koh Kong Province, after they filmed two large vessels conducting suspected illegal sand dredging activities off the coast of Prek Ksach Commune, Koh Kong Province (see background information). On October 3, 2017, the Koh Kong Provincial Court denied their bail motion. The sentence of the two defenders was delivered a day after their trial began at the Koh Kong Provincial Court on January 25, 2018.

The Observatory strongly condemns the sentencing and ongoing arbitrary detention of Messrs. Hun Vannak and Doem Kundy, which only aim at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities. The Observatory calls on the Cambodian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Messrs. Hun Vannak and Doem Kundy and to put an end to all acts of harassment against them and all human rights defenders in Cambodia.

Background information:

On September 12, 2017, Messrs. Hun Vannak and Doem Kundy were arrested off the coast of Koh Kong Province and taken to Koh Kong provincial police headquarters for questioning. They had been on a small speedboat and just finished filming two large vessels that they suspected were about to carry silica sand for export. The video was to be used to ask prominent businessman and ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) Senator Ly Yong Phat [1], who owns the company that operates the nearby Special Economic Zone (SEZ) from where the sand had been extracted, why the ships appeared not to be broadcasting an Automatic Identification System signal. The lack of such signal meant that the ship did not appear on online ship tracking databases. The police were reportedly acting in response to a complaint issued by the company Kirisakor Koh Kong SEZ, under the control of Ly Yong Phat, which claimed that the activists were filming “inside the company’s private land”.

On September 13, 2017, Messrs. Hun Vannak and Doem Kundy were interviewed by the Koh Kong Prosecutor without a lawyer present. The Koh Kong Provincial Court subsequently charged them with “incitement to commit a felony” (Article 495 of the Criminal Code) and “violation of privacy (recording of a person’s image)” (under Article 302).

Their arrest came just two days after ‘Mother Nature Cambodia’ posted an online video exposing huge discrepancies in silica sand trade figures with Taiwan, highlighting more than US$30 million in undocumented and potentially illegal exports. Mother Nature Cambodia’ has repeatedly sought to expose discrepancies in sand trade figures between Cambodia and third countries, including India and Singapore, which would indicate large-scale sand smuggling. The Observatory believes that this video might be the real reason for the arrest of Messrs. Hun Vannak and Doem Kundy.

The two defenders were subsequently placed in pre-trial detention in Prek Svay prison, Khmerak Phumin city, Koh Kong province.

On October 3, 2017, their bail motion, which was submitted on September 28, 2017, was denied.

The Observatory recalls that several ‘Mother Nature Cambodia’ members have faced legal action and have been harassed and imprisoned for campaigning against illicit sand dredging in Koh Kong Province [2].

Moreover, on September 15, 2017, ‘Mother Nature Cambodia’ was pressured into de-registering following the harassment of its directors by the Cambodian authorities.

Actions requested:

Please write to the Cambodian authorities asking them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Hun Vannak and Doem Kundy, as well as of all human rights defenders in Cambodia;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Messrs. Hun Vannak and Doem Kundy, as well as all detained human rights defenders in Cambodia, as their detention is arbitrary since it only aims at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities;

iii. Put an end to all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Messrs. Hun Vannak and Doem Kundy and 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 Articles 1 and 12.2;

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 of the Kingdom of 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 and Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 212708
· Mr. Ang Vong Vathna, Minister of Justice of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 364 119
· Mr. Prak Sokhon, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 216 144 / +855 23 216 141, Email: mfaic@mfa.gov.kh
· Mr. Keo Remy, President of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, Fax: +855 12 81 37 81 / +855 23 21 11 62 or +855 23 88 10 45 (c/o Council of Ministers)
· Mr. Suon Visal, President of the Cambodian Bar Association, Fax: +855 23 864 076, Email: info@bakc.org.kh
· Ambassador Mr. Ney Samol, Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 788 77 74, Email: camemb.gva@mfa.gov.kh

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

***
Geneva-Paris, January 26, 2018

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 and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
· Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

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