Environmental activist Alex Gonzalez-Davidson made a direct appeal to Prime Minister Hun Sen via Facebook on Wednesday for help securing a visa to return to Cambodia to attend his pending trial for aiding a trio of fellow activists.
The three activists from the NGO Mother Nature, which Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson co-founded, were arrested and charged by the Koh Kong Provincial Court in August with threatening to cause damage. The charge stems from their campaign against sand dredging companies they claimed were operating illegally.
On Wednesday, court director Huon Many confirmed Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson had been charged, too.
“The court has already charged him with being an accomplice to the same crime his subordinates committed,” he said, declining to comment further.
In 2014, government officials accused Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson of setting up an illegal checkpoint along a road leading into Koh Kong’s Areng Valley as part of a separate Mother Nature-led campaign against a planned hydropower dam. Rather than taking him to court, however, the government refused to renew his visa and deported the Spanish citizen early last year.
Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson says it is his legal right to attend his trial. In a video posted to his Facebook page yesterday, he asks Mr. Hun Sen for help obtaining the visa he needs to return to Cambodia.
“Prime minister, as you already know, Koh Kong’s court has recently charged me with being an accomplice in a ‘crime’ together with three other Mother Nature activists…in relation to our campaign against sand mining in the province of Koh Kong,” he says in Khmer in the video, which is accompanied by English subtitles.
“Koh Kong’s court will soon attempt to sentence me in absentia, something I cannot accept as this would be a gross violation of my rights,” he says.
“Article 38 of Cambodian Constitution, Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 300 of the Cambodian Code of Criminal Procedure—all of these demand that people who have been charged with a crime appear in court.”
Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson says he will apply for a visa at an unspecified Cambodian Embassy. “Therefore, I would like to ask that you, as the prime minister of Cambodia, kindly expedite my application so that I have the chance to return to Cambodia and attend my own trial,” he says.
Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson said by email that he planned to apply for a visa in Thailand, where he shot the video.
“If they accept, I will return to Cambodia as soon as possible,” he said. “If they refuse, my lawyers can use that refusal to ask for the whole trial against me to be declared non-valid, as being charged with a crime and not being allowed to defend myself in a court of law is a blatant violation of several laws.”
Legally, visas are the purview of the Interior Ministry’s immigration department. General Sok Phal, who heads the department, said he was awaiting instructions from the prime minister.
“I saw the video, but I [do] not yet know about the [prime minister’s] decision,” he said, declining to comment further.