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.
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources, including the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), about the suspended sentences and subsequent release of 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 hydropower dam in Koh Kong Province.
According to the information received, on July 1, 2016, Judge Min Meakra of the Koh Kong Provincial Court convicted Messrs. Try Sovikea, Sun Mala and Sim Samnang with “threatening to cause destruction, defacement or damage followed by an order” under Articles 28 and 424 of the Criminal Code. These charges were brought after the three environmental activists were arrested last year amid an ongoing campaign to end alleged illegal sand dredging in Koh Kong (see background information).
Messrs. Try Sovikea, Sun Mala and Sim Samnang were sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment and the payment of a two million riel (about US$500) fine as well as a 100 million riel (about $25,000) compensation payment to the sand dredging company Direct Access. The company had initially brought a criminal complaint against the three . As their 10 months and 15 days’ pre-trial detention was considered time served and the remainder of the sentence was suspended, the three were released in the afternoon of July 1.
Throughout the trial, little or no evidence of their guilt was presented. The defendants’ legal team told the court that the only evidence relied on by the prosecution were inconclusive video clips and witness testimonies from several individuals who were not present at the scene of the alleged crime. One key prosecution witness who was on site gave a testimony that contradicted his own earlier written witness statement. In addition, despite the fact that the three activists were initially charged under Article 424 of the Criminal Code only, Judge Min Meakra changed the charges at the last minute to convict the three as instigators to the principal offence under Article 28 of the Criminal Code. Such last-minute change constitutes a denial of the three activists’ right to prepare an adequate legal defence, in violation of their right to a fair trial.
The Observatory welcomes the release of Messrs. Try Sovikea, Sun Mala and Sim Samnang but strongly condemns their conviction and the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment to which they were subjected, which only aimed at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities.
The conviction of activists involved in high-profile cases and their release on suspended sentences has become an often-used tactic by the Cambodian authorities to criminalize legitimate activism. Accordingly, the Observatory calls on the Cambodian authorities to put an end to all acts of judicial harassment against all human rights defenders in Cambodia.
On August 17, 2015, Messrs. Sim Somnang, Tri Sovikea and San Mala were arrested in Andong Teuk over their involvement in protests that took place on July 26-28 and August 12, 2015 against Direct Access, a company registered in Cambodia, which has been accused of illegally dredging sand in Koh Kong Province and causing extensive damage to the environment and livelihood of local communities in the region. On August 31 and September 21, 2015, the Koh Kong Provincial Court and the Court of Appeals in Phnom Penh respectively denied bail to the three defenders.
Moreover, Mr. Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, a Spanish citizen and the Director of Mother Nature, was charged as an accomplice to the same alleged offense, despite living overseas since he was deported from Cambodia on February 23, 2015 .
Messrs. Sim Samnang, Tri Sovichea, and Sun Mala were held in pre-trial detention in Koh Kong provincial prison since their arrest - amounting to 11 days longer than the legal pre-trial detention limit of 10 months.
Please write to the authorities of Cambodia urging them to:
i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Sim Samnang, Tri Sovichea and Sun Mala, as well as of all human rights defenders in Cambodia;
ii. Put an end to acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Messrs. Sim Samnang, Tri Sovichea, Sun Mala and Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, as well as against all human rights defenders in Cambodia so that they are able to carry out their work without hindrance or fear of reprisals;
iiii. Comply with all the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular its Articles 1, 12.1 and 12.2;
iv. Guarantee in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international and regional human rights instruments signed or ratified by the Kingdom of Cambodia.
· Mr. Hun Sen, Prime Minister, Office of the Prime Minister, Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 360666 / 855 23 880624 (c/o Council of Ministers), Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
· Mr. Sar Kheng, Minister of Interior, Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: + 855 23 212708
· Mr. Ang Vong Vathna, Minister of Justice, Ministry of Justice, Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: + 855 23 364 119
· Mr. Prak Sokhon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: + 855 23 216 144 / 855 23 216 141 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Mr. Sok An, Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: +855 23 882 065, Email: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
· Mr. Keo Remy, President of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, Office of the Prime Minister, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: +855 12 81 37 81 / +855 23 21 11 62 or +855 23 88 10 45 (c/o Council of Ministers)
· Mr. Bun Hun, President of the Cambodian Bar Association, Fax: +855 23 864 076, Email: email@example.com
· 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Cambodia in your respective countries.