Dozens of people protested outside of the provincial prison in Koh Kong on Wednesday demanding the release of three activists from environmental NGO Mother Nature who were charged on Monday with threatening destruction, a rights worker and police said.
In Kongchit, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, said that about 45 people gathered outside the prison in Khemara Phoumint City in the morning to demand the release of Sim Samnang, Try Sovikea and Sun Mala. The three were arrested and charged after months of protesting against Direct Access, a company they accuse of illegally dredging sand in the Andoung Toek estuary in Botum Sakor district.
Mr. Kongchit, whose organization has provided the activists with a lawyer, said police used motorbikes as a barricade to prevent about 45 other people from joining the protest at the prison.
“But they pushed through the barricades and joined with the 45 people,” he said, adding that by noon, the number of protesters had swelled to more than 200.
Starting at about 2 p.m., Mr. Kongchit said, the group marched roughly 7 km to the Koh Kong Provincial Court, with police walking alongside them.
Provincial police chief Sam Khitvean said police did not interfere with the protest and estimated that only 80 people took part.
Sorn Chandara, a Mother Nature activist who participated in the protest, said 60 people would camp outside the courthouse overnight and continue demonstrating today.
On Monday, police said the three were arrested for failing to respond to a summons to appear in court for questioning on Friday. Court officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The Mines and Energy Ministry said Wednesday that the three were charged for threatening to destroy Direct Access’ equipment.
“[T]he court received a complaint from the company because those people invaded and climbed up the barges in an attempt to destroy company property,” the ministry said in an email.