Groups call for release of Mother Nature environmental activistsGlobal Voices

A poster shared on social media calling for the release of detained members of Mother Nature. Source: Facebook

Human rights groups inside and outside Cambodia are calling for the immediate release of Mother Nature activists who were arrested for filming a sewage flow near the Royal Palace.

Mother Nature members Sun Ratha 26 and Yim Leanghy 32 were arrested on June 16 while documenting the flow of raw sewage into the Tonle Sap River. Their colleague Ly Chandaravuth, 22, was arrested in Kandal province. They were accused of plotting an attack on the state and of insulting the king. The group’s founder, Spanish citizen Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, has been charged in absentia.

This is not the first time that members of Mother Nature have been sued for their advocacy. Authorities arrested Phoun Keo Reaksmey, 19, Thun Ratha, 29, and Long Kunthea, 22, in September 2020 for planning a walk to the Prime Minister’s residence as part of a campaign against privatization and the planned rehabilitation of Lake Boeung Tamok in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. All three were sentenced in May.

Mother Nature is known for running social media campaigns and community action plans to highlight environmental issues. In 2015, he led a campaign that succeeded in preventing the construction of a mega-dam in the remote Areng Valley. He also revealed sand smuggling operations in coastal areas of the country. These campaigns led to the deportation of Gonzalez-Davidson.

Gonzalez-Davidson Told Radio Free Asia that the recent arrests targeting Mother Nature would benefit officials engaged in business activities that harm the environment:

Whether it’s chopping down trees in Prey Lang Forest, illegally logging rosewood in the Kravanh mountain range, dredging sand along the Mekong River or in Koh Kong, or mining gold in the provinces of Preah Vihear or Mondulkiri, all this will now be more practical. for them.

Companies and individuals involved in illegal business activities will profit from these arrests.

But the Ministry of the Interior insisted that Mother Nature only uses the environmental issue for hide his real goal of conspiring to overthrow the government.

This action is a plan to incite, to ignite the national division, and [it] violated the Cambodian Constitution with the aim of causing social insecurity and impacting national stability so that the competent authorities must initiate legal proceedings.

Cambodian human rights groups have condemned the arrests and the laying of charges against young members of Mother Nature. Sopheap Chak from the Cambodian Center for Human Rights mentionned the work of Mother Nature should be praised by the authorities:

The work activists undertake should be praised rather than hindered, and their voices should be heard rather than silenced.

Civil society groups signed a joint declaration Express alarm on arrests:

Standing up for human rights and demanding that authorities protect the environment are not crimes, and imprisoning the country’s next generation of conservationists puts us all at risk.

They also called the courts for indicting activists and placing peaceful dissidents in overcrowded prisons during a pandemic:

Courts have been reluctant to release those convicted of non-violent crimes early or on bail, but continue to jail peaceful activists, putting their health at risk.

The United Nations Human Rights Program and the United Nations Environment Program issued a statement urging authorities to stop punishing critics and activists. Cynthia Veliko, Southeast Asia Representative of the United Nations Human Rights Office in Bangkok, added:

It is imperative to stop the use of all punitive measures systematically taken against human rights and environmental rights workers in Cambodia. Human rights and environmental work are not criminal offenses

We urge the authorities to ensure that human rights and civil society organizations in Cambodia can operate without fear or intimidation and that their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association are protected and respected.

So far, authorities have presented no evidence as to why the simple Documentation a sewer flow into a river constitutes an offense. A pro-government online news site posted a video this appears to be a private Zoom meeting of members of Mother Nature discussing the politics of the country.

Amnesty International interrogates illegal surveillance operations carried out against groups that advocate reform and good governance:

Alarmingly, authorities appear to be engaging in illegal surveillance of environmental activists in order to concoct evidence of wacky plots. Time and time again, the Cambodian government has called critics of the government rebels and conspirators, and called peaceful activism a crime.

Sebastian Strangio of the Diplomat wrote on the paranoia of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) which mischievously equates peaceful activism with betrayal and political destabilization:

Yet fear of public scrutiny alone does not explain the exaggeration of the charges against the three Mother Nature environmentalists and the government’s staunch determination to stamp out the group’s activities. Rather, it reflects the CPP government’s deep paranoia over foreign influence and its tendency to confuse independent civil society activism on any issue with attempts to organize the overthrow of the current government.

If found guilty, arrested members of Mother Nature could be jailed for five to ten years.

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