After Activists Flee Country, Mother Nature Appeal Moves Forward

A prosecutor at the Court of Appeal argued on Tuesday that three activists with the environmental NGO Mother Nature who fled Cambodia last week should be forced to serve their suspended eight-month sentences.

Sim Samnang, Try Sovikea and San Mala spent 10 months in detention before receiving 18-month sentences in July for threatening to destroy a barge belonging to dredging company Direct Access in Koh Kong in 2015. The trio walked free when a judge suspended the last eight months of their sentences, and they subsequently launched an appeal against a $25,000 fine they were ordered to pay.

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Mother Nature activists, from left, Sim Samnang, Try Sovikea and San Mala stand outside the Koh Kong provincial courthouse after being freed in July, in a photograph posted to the group’s Facebook page.

However, amid fears that the Appeal Court could be “used as a tool of revenge” against them, the activists fled the country last week.

The case went ahead on Tuesday, and prosecutor Chea Meth argued they should serve their remaining jail terms.

“There was enough evidence for inculpating the defendants and that is consistent with the answers of victims and witnesses,” Mr. Meth told the court.

“Please judges, consider the point that the deputy prosecutor [at the Koh Kong Provincial Court] has asked for them to be penalized for their suspended sentences,” he said.

Presiding Judge Sin Visal read testimony from Sam Samet, a Direct Access employee.

“These three led villagers on board the barge, which the company had received a license for, and they threatened and insulted staff, calling them ‘Yuon,’” he read, using a sometimes derogatory term for Vietnamese.

Sam Chamroeun, a lawyer for the three activists, said after Tuesday’s hearing that the judge had rejected his request to postpone the hearing to allow for more defense witnesses.

Exiled Mother Nature founder Alex Gonzalez-Davidson said last week that the activists feared a judicial backlash over the group’s recent criticism of the government over environmental damage and discrepancies in sand export records.

“We suspect that the court is under pressure by vested interests who have benefited from the smuggling of sand and the court is being used as a tool of revenge against the activists,” the group said on its Facebook page on January 25.

A verdict in the appeal will be announced on February 15.

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