Mother Nature Cambodia activists released on bail

Three men and three women from Mother Nature Cambodia smiling after their release Reasons to be cheerful: the first photo after their release (© Mother Nature Cambodia) Three men and three women from Mother Nature Cambodia The activists are only out on bail – they could still face long prison sentences. (© FIAN)

Dec 1, 2021

The six imprisoned activists of Mother Nature Cambodia have been released in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh subject to strict conditions. But the charges have not been dropped, so they could still face up to ten years in prison. We are therefore continuing to collect signatures for our petition to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The young activists Thun Ratha, Phuon Keoraksmey and Long Kunthea had to endure 14 months in terrible conditions in overcrowded prison cells; Sun Ratha, Yim Leanghy and Ly Chandaravuth were locked up for five months. Their "crimes": peacefully campaigning for the protection of nature and raising public awareness of abuses.

They have been released on bail, but not acquitted. They still face charges of conspiracy, insulting the king and incitement that could put them behind bars for up to ten years. In addition to paying bail, they remain under strict judicial supervision, must not commit any further "offenses", and are not allowed to leave the country.

Along with the six Mother Nature members, 20 further prisoners – also campaigners for human rights and environmental protection – were released.

International pressure and 80,000 signatures

According to reports in Cambodia and abroad, international pressure on Cambodia's government, including a Rainforest Rescue petition with more than 80,000 signatures, contributed to the releases.  "I believe this petition played an important role," says Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, co-founder of Mother Nature Cambodia. "It was probably also an attempt by the Cambodian authorities to improve their international image ahead of high-level meetings like the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in late November, as well as the 2022 ASEAN Summit."

Gonzalez-Davidson has also been charged with insulting the king, albeit in absentia. He was deported from Cambodia in 2015.

The arrests and indictments of the Mother Nature Cambodia activists are aimed at stopping their documentation of systematic environmental destruction, as this work also uncovers human rights abuses and corruption. In Cambodia, as soon as an individual or a group campaigns for the protection of the environment or human rights and encourages other people to express their opinions, their work is massively hindered.

Silent inaction is not an option

Even after the long and inhumane imprisonment, the activists are not allowing themselves to be cowed: "I will continue to be socially engaged and do what I love," Long Kunthea said after her release.

Her young colleague Ly Chandravuth finds it important – given the current political climate in Cambodia – that people continue to stand up for their rights, despite increasingly severe restrictions on freedom of assembly and speech. "If more of us join these kinds of campaigns then there wouldn’t be any kind of clampdown, because when people stand up together the government must rethink its activities," Chandaravuth said. "But if [people] remain silent then we will still be abused by the government … silence is not a choice, we have to raise our voice. That is the only way that will bring us a future."

The demands of our petition to Cambodia's government have not been met because the release is only temporary and tied to unjustified conditions. Please help with your signature if you have not already done so.

Sources and further information:

https://www.licadho-cambodia.org/flashnews.php?perm=302

https://www.dw.com/en/cambodia-targets-mother-nature-group-in-latest-crackdown-on-dissent/a-59843664

https://news.mongabay.com/2021/11/newly-released-cambodian-activists-honored-among-front-line-defenders-awardees/

https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/Unbowed-by-prison-young-Cambodian-activists-vow-to-fight-on

https://cambodianess.com/article/they-breathe-hope-mother-nature-on-prison-freedom-and-the-future