Sam Rainsy Asks Government to Let Outspoken Activist Stay

Opposition CNRP president Sam Rainsy on Monday weighed in on behalf of environmental activist Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, asking the Interior Ministry to reverse a decision to not renew the Spanish national’s visa over a traffic incident from September.

Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson has been at the forefront of efforts to convince the government to cancel plans for a hydropower dam in Koh Kong province’s Areng Valley, a project that would flood the habitat of several threatened species and force more than 300 ethnic Chong families to leave their ancestral lands.

In September, he and about 10 fellow activists from the NGO he co-founded, Mother Nature, were briefly detained by police in Koh Kong after they attempted to block a convoy of cars carrying local officials on their way to meet with the Chong families in the valley. The Interior Ministry has confirmed that it will not renew Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson’s visa, which expires Friday, because of the incident.

Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson and other rights advocates believe the ministry’s decision is politically motivated because he has helped stall a project the government wants to push forward.

In a signed letter Monday, Mr. Rainsy urges Interior Minister Sar Kheng to reconsider the decision.

“I and other Cambodians believe that Mr. Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson is not a criminal and has not committed any serious offense for which he has to be expelled from Cambodia,” the letter reads. “He is only an activist in the civil society arena who has helped to raise public awareness of environmental issues and has helped people understand their rights more clearly.”

Having gained fluency in Khmer, the opposition leader adds, the Spanish national “has shown that he loves and respects Khmer culture and tradition.”

“I would like Your Excellency to help Mr. Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson to obtain the right to stay and to continue his legitimate and nonviolent activity,” the letter ends.

Neither Mr. Kheng nor immigration department director Sok Phal could be reached.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak declined to comment on the effect Mr. Rainsy’s letter might have.

“We don’t know yet because the only person who can decide is the minister,” he said.

Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson said earlier he will not leave Cambodia voluntarily if his visa is not renewed, and will have to be deported by force.

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