Three environmental activists were sentenced to 18 months in prison by the Koh Kong Provincial Court today for threatening to destroy a sand dredging company’s equipment, but are set to be released later today with the remainder of their term suspended.
The Mother Nature activists - San Mala, 24, Try Sovikea, 26, and Sim Somnang, 29 - have already served 10 months and 15 days in pre-trial detention.
“They are due to be released this evening,” said deputy prosecutor Iv Tray following the announcement of the verdict. He declined to comment further, as did judge Min Makara, who said only that he had already announced the verdict.
The court ordered the the trio to pay 100 million riel (about $25,000) in compensation to the plaintiffs, a district deputy governor and an employee of company Direct Access, whose vessels the activists boarded. They must also pay fines totalling 2 million riel (about $500).
The trio faced charges of “making a threat followed by an order”, after a protest in which they boarded Direct Access dredging vessels last July and allegedly threatened to burn the ships.
The court began closed-door proceedings against the three activists last week, barring access to the public, including the families of the accused. Security was stepped up outside the provincial courthouse,where about 100 villagers gathered to protest the arrests and request that the court drop the charges.
Sam Samnang, 55, mother of Try Sovikea, told the Post that although she is happy about her son’s impending release, she is also concerned by the charges against her son and her family’s ability to afford the hefty compensation.
“How can I get money to pay [the compensation and fines], since we are poor? I’m shocked to hear that the compensation is this much,” she said. “We will discuss with all the families [of the accused] and a lawyer to file an appeal.”
“The charges should also be dropped, because they were only protecting the environment,” she added.
In Kongchit, provincial coordinator for rights organisation Licadho, said that the verdict was unjust.
“The judge and deputy prosecutor found that [the accused] threatened the plaintiff. They did not. They were only protecting the environment. They should be encouraged to do more [activism], but they have been intimidated,” he said. “They come from poor families and work for Mother Nature for no pay.”
“This verdict really puts pressure on them more to find money,” he added. “The court must drop the charges against them.”