As environmental activist Alex Gonzalez-Davidson’s visa expired Friday with the Spaniard refusing to leave the country, the Ministry of Interior threatened to arrest and forcibly deport him.
The ministry has been refusing to allow the co-founder of the NGO Mother Nature to renew his visa after Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson and fellow activists last year briefly blocked a government convoy from reaching the site of a proposed hydropower dam in Koh Kong province that they oppose.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said on Friday that the ministry would not allow Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson to stay in Cambodia.
“From tomorrow onward, Alex should be concerned that they could come to arrest him any time,” General Sopheak said.
“They will not use artillery, because it’s a small issue,” he added.
The dam, which is backed by ruling party Senator Lao Meng Khin and his wife, and has the support of Prime Minister Hun Sen, would force hundreds of ethnic minority families from their homes in the Areng Valley and flood the habitat of some 30 globally threatened animal species.
Earlier this week, Gen. Sopheak said that the activist was being asked to leave the country for a short time and apply for a visa from outside Cambodia because of a complaint Koh Kong officials had filed against him over the roadblock.
“Alex is making himself famous on the point that he committed an offense against the law of Cambodia,” Gen. Sopheak said Friday. “We don’t want Alex to become famous by committing unlawful actions in Cambodia.”
On Friday, a group of 83 civil society organizations, including Licadho, World Vision and the Community Legal Education Center, released a statement calling on the government to renew Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson’s visa.
The same morning, about 50 university students and monks gathered outside the National Assembly to submit a petition in support of the activist.
“We are youths and monks, and we are very upset, and the important thing we want is for the commission of the National Assembly to find a resolution for Mr. Alex to obtain the right to live in Cambodia,” Heng Samnang, the head of advocacy group Khmer Youth Empire, told three CNRP lawmakers who came out to receive the petition.
CNRP lawmaker Ho Vann promised to deliver the petition to CPP National Assembly President Heng Samrin.
Opposition CNRP leader Sam Rainsy and CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha have both sent letters to government ministers and even King Norodom Sihamoni pleading the activist’s case, but so far to no avail.
Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson said on Friday that although he felt it would be easier to leave Cambodia and forget the problem, it was the last thing his NGO or the Areng campaign needed.
“Plus, I am a Cambodian at heart, so me leaving the country as an illegal immigrant is outright illogical,” he said in an email.
“And of course, there is the issue of reputation: what [would] our increasingly big support base feel if, after the brave and relentless campaign we’ve conducted so far, I chicken out at the last minute? What would the other activists, local villagers, civil society groups, think if I now gave up the fight?
“Thinking about those questions has convinced me that, no matter what might happen in the next few days/weeks, I am staying here,” he said.
“If they want to arrest me, put me in jail, then deport me, then so be it.”
(Additional reporting by Holly Robertson)