Cambodia: Convictions and prison sentences of ten members of Mother Nature Cambodia

10/07/2024
Urgent Appeal
Aboodi Vesakaran via Unsplash

KHM 002 / 0724 / OBS 028
Conviction /
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment
Cambodia
July 10, 2024

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership 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 of the convictions and prison sentences of 10 environmental rights defenders, namely Mr Ly Chandaravuth, Ms Long Kunthea, Ms Phuon Keoraksmey, Mr Pork Khoeuy, Binh Piseth, Mr Thun Ratha, Ms Rai Raksa, Mr Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, Mr Yim Leanghy, and Ms Sun Ratha, all members of Mother Nature Cambodia, an award-winning environmental rights grassroots organisation that was deregistered by the Ministry of Interior in September 2017 but continues its activities as a movement of concerned citizens.

On July 2, 2024, the Phnom Penh Capital Court sentenced Ly Chandaravuth, Long Kunthea, Phuon Keoraksmey, Pork Khoeuy, Binh Piseth, Thun Ratha, and Rai Raksa to six years in prison on charges of “plotting” (Article 453 of the Cambodian Criminal Code). Additionally, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, Yim Leanghy, and Sun Ratha were sentenced to eight years in prison and a 10,000,000 riel (approximately 2,250 Euros) fine on charges of “plotting” and “insulting the King” (Articles 453 and 437-bis of the Criminal Code, respectively). Mother Nature’s co-founder Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, a Spanish national deported from Cambodia in 2015 and sentenced in absencia, has been permanently banned from re-entering the country. Arrest warrants were issued for all 10 activists, who were not present in the courtroom during the hearing. The trial lasted five hearings, from May 29, 2024, to July 2, 2024.

At the end of the hearing, Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea, Phuon Keoraksmey, and Ly Chandaravuth were violently arrested by 50 police officers and plainclothes security personnel outside the court while they were peacefully protesting. Eng Sokha, a supporter present at the protest, was also arrested and subsequently released after several hours in police custody. Yim Leanghy, who was absent on the day of the hearing, was arrested in Phnom Penh.

At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, the five arrested activists are detained in five different prisons, all hundreds of kilometres from their residences and families: Thun Ratha in Correctional Center 3 in Tbong Khmum Province; Ly Chandaravuth in Kandal Prison; Phuon Keoraksmey in Pursat Provincial Prison; Yim Leanghy in Kampong Speu Prison; and Long Kunthea in Preah Vihear Prison.

The sentencing of the 10 environmental rights activists and the arbitrary arrest of five of them is related to a Zoom meeting in which the defendants participated in 2021. It is believed that the meeting was hacked and recorded, as a recording was leaked to pro-government media shortly afterwards. The charges against the defendants also broadly refer to acts committed between 2012 and 2021.

The Observatory recalls that Mother Nature activists have faced intense judicial harassment, threats and criminal charges for their peaceful environmental activism for about a decade.

On September 3, 2020, Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea, and Phuon Keoraksmey were arbitrarily arrested and detained on separate incitement charges relating to a one-woman march against the in-filling of an urban lake. They spent more than 14 months in prison, with additional plotting charges laid against them. In June 2021, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson was charged with plotting in absentia, after being deported from Cambodia on February 23, 2015. He has not been able to return since. On June 16, 2021, Sun Ratha, Ly Chandaravuth, and Yim Leanghy were arbitrarily arrested and detained, charged with “plotting” and “insulting the King”, and spent nearly five months in pre-trial detention.

The Observatory further recalls that human rights defenders in Cambodia face increasing repression from Cambodian authorities, including arbitrary arrests, detentions and harassment - including at the judicial level - , particularly affecting land and environmental rights defenders. The Observatory recalls that on April 5, 2024, Koet Saray, president of the Kmer Student Intelligent League Association (KSILA), was arbitrarily arrested on charges of “incitement to cause serious chaos to social security” for his peaceful defense of villagers evicted in the framework of a land dispute.

The Observatory strongly condemns the convictions, prison sentences, and arbitrary detention of Ly Chandaravuth, Long Kunthea, Phuon Keoraksmey, Yim Leanghy, and Thun Ratha, as well as the convictions and prison sentences of Pork Khoeuy, Binh Piseth, Rai Raksa, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, and Sun Ratha, which appear aimed solely at punishing them for their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities.

The Observatory further condemns the incarceration of the five environmental defenders in prisons far from their homes and families, and recalls that such practice is inconsistent with Rule 59 of The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules).

The Observatory urges the Cambodian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Ly Chandaravuth, Long Kunthea, Phuon Keoraksmey, Yim Leanghy, and Thun Ratha, and to end all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against all above mentioned environmental rights activists and all other human rights defenders in the country.

Actions required:

Please write to the authorities of Cambodia to urge them to:
 Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Ly Chandaravuth, Long Kunthea, Phuon Keoraksmey, Pork Khoeuy, Binh Piseth, Thun Ratha, Rai Raksa, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, Yim Leanghy and Sun Ratha and all other environment and human rights defenders in Cambodia;

 Immediately and unconditionally release Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea, Phuon Keoraksmey, Ly Chandaravuth, Yim Leanghy, and all other arbitrarily detained environment and human rights defenders, whose detention appears to be solely aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities;

 Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against the 10 above-mentioned human rights defenders and all other human rights defenders in Cambodia, and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities in all circumstances without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.

Addresses:
• Mr. Hun Manet, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: leewood_phu@nida.gov.kh / cppparty@gmail.com
• Mr. Sar Sokha, Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: moi@cambodia.gov.kh
• Mr. Koeut Rith, Minister of Justice of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: moj@cambodia.gov.kh
• Mr. Sok Chenda Sophea, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: mfaic@mfa.gov.kh / mfaicasean@mfaic.gov.kh
• Mr. Ly Chantola, President of the Cambodian Bar Association. Email: info@bakc.org.kh
• Ambassador Mr. Dara In, 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, July 10, 2024

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 FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT 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: alert@observatoryfordefenders.org
• Tel FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18
• Tel OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39

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