A Cambodian environmental protection group is suspending operations in Cambodia over concerns for the safety of its activists, many of whom have been arrested and jailed on charges widely seen as politically motivated, the group’s founder said in a statement. interview this week.
Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, a Spanish environmentalist, told RFA on Monday in an interview that the NGO Mother Nature still exists and has not closed its doors. Instead, he will wait to see the outcome of legal proceedings against six of his activists recently released on bail, he said.
“Their cases are now in the hands of the investigating judges while their cases are heard,” Davidson said. “We will continue our activities, but not with our young activists who work inside Cambodia,” he said.
If Cambodian courts don’t send the six to jail, Mother Nature could return to work inside the country, where half or more of the population are teenagers, Gonzalez-Davidson said.
âThis means that even though Mother Nature has no members or staff, we still have millions of partners, mostly young people, who can cooperate with us to protect the forest and the environment,â he said.
âTherefore, we hope that our new strategy will provide both more efficiency and security for our six activists awaiting court decisions. This is how we can reduce their risks while living in a dictatorial regime, âhe added.
Gonzalez-Davidson was deported from Cambodia in February 2015 after the government refused to renew his visa. Opposition groups and local NGOs said the Khmer activist was expelled to prevent him from organizing an opposition to the Chhay Areng hydroelectric dam project in Koh Kong province in southwest Cambodia.
The Chinese-led $ 400 million project backed by a ruling Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker is said to have forced hundreds of ethnic minority families out of their ancestral lands and destroyed the habitats of endangered animals, reported they declared.
Gonzalez-Davidson was refused return to Cambodia, although on May 5 he was convicted in absentia along with three other Mother Nature activists – Long Kunthea, 22, Phuon Keorasmey, 19, and Thun Ratha, 29 years old – and sentenced to up to 20 months in prison for inciting violence linked to their activism.
He was charged again by the same court in June with conspiracy and insulting the country’s king when authorities arrested three of his colleagues from Mother Nature – Sun Ratha, Yim Leanghy and Ly Chandaravuth – who were placed in custody. custody.
Released from prison on bail on November 12, Phuon Keorasmy pledged to continue her activities to protect Cambodia’s environment.
âFor me, even though we are no longer Mother Nature activists, we will still continue to do our job. We cannot give up our desire to protect our natural resources, âshe said.
Keorasmey said she and her fellow activists were encouraged by the international support they received in prison.
âIt told us that our work was legal and good for the country,â she said.
“In addition, I see that our country continues to destroy our natural resources, promotes irresponsible and non-transparent development, and has no space for human rights and environmental activists to work freely. .
âAs young people, and as active citizens and masters of our country, we cannot remain silent,â she said.
Reported by the Khmer service of RFA. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Richard Finney.