A Cambodian court has charged three environmental activists with insulting the country’s King Norodom Sihamoni and plotting against the government. They face up to 10 years in prison.
The three members of the environmental group Mother Nature were arrested last week after they documented waste discharge into Phnom Penh’s Tonle Sap River.
Plang Sophal, deputy prosecutor of Phnom Penh Municipal Court was quoted as saying that the “evidence collected by the police was an insult to the king”, though prosecutors didn’t elaborate.
Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, the Spanish founder of Mother Nature – was also charged in absentia since he isn’t in the country. He told Reuters via a text message that the charges against him were “completely fabricated”.
“As for the charges against me, I see them as further recognition that the regime sees my peaceful activism as a threat,” he said.
The BBC reported that Mr Gonzalez-Davidson was deported from Cambodia in 2015 after he criticised government plans for a controversial dam.
The Cambodian national human rights organisation, Licadho, said that the three members of the Mother Nature group – Sun Ratha, 26, Ly Chandaravuth, 22, and Yim Leanghy, 32 – were detained on 16 June while documenting the wastewater discharge into the river.
Naly Pilorge, the Licadho director said: “The Cambodian government has relentlessly targeted Mother Nature Cambodia. This marks an escalation with the outrageous charges of plotting.”
Meanwhile, Phay Siphan, the government spokesperson told the media that the government was just applying the law and that the defendants should “find a good lawyer to challenge this issue in the courtroom instead of fabricating the news,” Reuters reported.
Last month, local reports said that three other campaigners associated with Mother Nature were sentenced to between 18 and 20 months in jail for organising a march against a lake in the capital being filled with sand.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch said that the Cambodian government has “stepped up its campaign to silence activists peacefully advocating to protect the environment”.
The US ambassador to the country, Patrick Murphy said: “Documenting pollution is a public service, not terrorism. We urge authorities to be responsive to its citizens, not to silence them.”
Licadho said in a statement that “the government appears intent on arresting anyone who voices dissent or protests peacefully”.
It also demanded that all activists are released immediately and charges against them dropped.