Cambodian environmental group suspends operations amid court cases – The diplomat

Mother Nature has suspended operations in Cambodia pending the results of legal proceedings against the environmental group, which outraged human rights activists and urged Western envoys to rethink.

At least six court cases are still pending after Mother Nature, which has taken an aggressive approach to environmentalism in Cambodia, found itself targeted by authorities amid a crackdown on opposition politicians and the independent press ahead of the 2018 elections.

In June, Sun Ratha, 26, Ly Chandaravuth, 22, and Yim Leanghy, 32, were charged with insulting the king and plotting to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government. The three were initially remanded in custody and face between five and 10 years in prison if convicted.

Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, a Spanish environmentalist who founded Mother Nature, told Radio Free Asia that the NGO still existed and did not close its doors but would wait to see the outcome of the legal proceedings against its six activists, recently released on bail.

“Their cases are now in the hands of the examining magistrates while their cases are judged,” Gonzalez-Davidson said. “We will continue our activities, but not with our young activists who work inside Cambodia. “

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In May, he was sentenced in absentia along with three other Mother Nature activists: Long Kunthea, 22, Phuon Keorasmey, 19, and Thun Ratha, 29. They were sentenced to up to 20 months in prison for inciting violence.

All six were released on bail in November following the protests governments of the United States, Australia and Sweden. US Ambassador Patrick Murphy said he was “very disturbed to hear about the arrests”, adding that “documenting pollution is a public service, not terrorism”.

Lieutenant-General Chhay Kim Khoeun initially alleged Mother Nature operated “with terrorist funding provided to their bosses by outsiders,” which was used to attempt to overthrow the government under the guise of helping the environment.

Hun Sen has constantly warned of outside forces plotting to overthrow his government and, as recently as Wednesday, he said the only way to destroy and prevent “color revolutions” was to have control. total of the armed forces and the civil administration.

“We will take immediate action against the Color Revolution. The basic strategy is to have full control over the armed forces and civilian administrations… The armed forces must destroy anyone who violates the constitution. The armed forces must take immediate action when a coup or a color revolution occurs, ”the harsh Cambodian Prime Minister said.

Gonzalez-Davidson has been refused return to Cambodia since being deported from the country in February 2015, after the government refused to renew his visa.

He and Mother Nature had fiercely opposed the $ 400 million Chhay Areng hydroelectric dam project in Koh Kong province, which environmentalists say forced hundreds of ethnic minority families to leave their traditional lands and destroy the habitats of endangered animals.

It was the first time in ten years that a foreign worker from an NGO had been refused entry to Cambodia, and construction of the Chhay Areng Dam was suspended a day after Gonzalez-Davidson’s expulsion.

He said the decision to suspend operations was taken out of concern for the staff, but Mother Nature could still count on “millions of partners, mostly young people, who can cooperate with us to protect the forest and the environment.”

“Therefore, we hope that our new strategy will provide both more efficiency and security for our six activists awaiting court decisions. This is how we can reduce their risks while they live in a dictatorial regime, ”he added.

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