Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, the outspoken director of the environmental group Mother Nature, has written to the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders to request that he pressure the government to release three Mother Nature activists imprisoned on charges stemming from an anti-sand dredging campaign.
Dated Tuesday, the letter is also signed by Joan Carling, secretary-general of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, and calls on Michel Forst to lobby the government to release San Mala, Sim Somnang and Try Sovikea, who were arrested in Koh Kong province in August and subsequently charged with threatening to cause damage after boarding dredging barges in a local estuary.
“[W]e request you to jointly examine this communication with other concerned Special Rapporteurs and correspond with the Government of Cambodia for them to take necessary steps, without any delay, to end the detention of the three defenders,” it says.
The letter also urges Mr. Forst to push the government to review the case of Ven Vorn, a community leader from Koh Kong’s Areng Valley convicted of illegal logging last month in a court decision described by critics as punishment for his participation in protests against a hydropower dam.
Finally, it asks the special rapporteur to help guarantee Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson the right to a fair trial.
The Spanish activist was deported from Cambodia in February 2015 after the government refused to renew his visa for his role in helping set up an illegal roadblock in Koh Kong. After leaving the country, Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson was hit with conspiracy charges related to the anti-dredging campaign. He has expressed a desire to return and defend himself in court, although authorities are refusing to issue him an entry visa.
An annex attached to the letter slams Interior Ministry and Koh Kong officials for their treatment of the jailed activists, and claims the charges against them were laid only because the the three were a “thorn in their sides.”
“It is more than evident that the judicial harassment of the four human rights defenders and their continued detention is in clear retaliation of their activism against the hydropower dam and the sand mining,” it says.
Contacted yesterday, Koh Kong provincial governor Bun Leut refuted the accusations.
“It’s simply not true. We don’t abuse human rights. We just implement procedures in accordance with the law,” he said. “It has nothing to do with retaliating against them.”