Outspoken environmental activist Alex Gonzalez-Davidson has been put on a plane back to spain following his arrest this afternoon along with a colleague from conservation group Mother Nature, according to a text message he sent on Monday night.
At 8:32 pm on Monday night Gonzalez-Davidson sent a text message saying he had already boarded a flight out of Cambodia.
"In the plane now. Ready to take Off, free flight to madrid, courtesy of the kingdom of wonder," Gonzalez-Davidson said in the message.
Gonzalez-Davidson and San Mala of Mother Nature were detained by immigration officials at about 1.15pm in the Riverside area of Phnom Penh.
General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, confirmed earlier on Monday that authorities intended to deport the Spanish national.
“We are not detaining him [for long], but just to force him out of the Kingdom. We have the right to send him to court and imprison him from one to three months, but we don’t do that … We will send him out tonight,” he said.
An immigration official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to talk to the media, said that the order to deport the conservation campaigner had come directly from Prime Minister Hun Sen following a speech he made on Monday morning.
“Hun Sen made the direct order to arrest Alex after his speech this morning and that, as this is a special case, he will likely be sent to the border soon,” the official said.
Sam Sophal, a UN worker who visited the detainees at the immigration department this afternoon, declined to comment.
Hun Sen earlier in the day warned the defiant activist to leave Cambodia voluntarily or face being blacklisted from the country.
Gonzalez-Davidson - who is facing deportation after the government refused to renew his visa - has vowed to remain in the country despite the fact that his visa expired on Friday.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh on Monday the premier also warned NGOs not to rally behind the cause of the embattled co-founder of Mother Nature, lest they face problems of their own.
"Regarding Alex [Gonzalez-Davidson], let the Ministry of Interior take measures. It's not just foreigners, it's also Khmers that will be sentenced and other NGOs shouldn't express much," Hun Sen said.
"We'll let him stay until his visa is invalid. So you should leave first then ask for a new visa, it doesn't matter. [You] don't need to make this situation get worse. If we deport you, it means [you're] in the blacklist, that's it".
Gonzalez-Davidson had planned to stay for at least 37 days after his visa expired on Friday and pay related fines, but had vowed to remain in Cambodia until he was forced to leave.
A staunch advocate on environmental causes, particularly that of the threatened Areng Valley, he has previously told the Post he is certain that if he leaves the country to obtain a new visa, the government will not let him back in. His situation has attracted huge support on social media, where the fluent Khmer-speaking activist has become something of celebrity.
On Monday morning Gonzalez-Davidson was unavailable to comment but Mala, a co-founder of Mother Nature who was also later arrested, said support for his colleague in the Cambodian community was absolute.
“Hun Sen is going against what the Khmer people want, as we know 100 per cent of Khmers want Alex to stay. [Hun Sen's actions are] opposite to Khmer people,” he said, pointing out that Alex has grown to be considered "Khmer" by his supporters.
"Our team won't let Alex leave this country as he is Khmer, lives here, can speak Khmer like a native and, most importantly, is the one who helps to protect the Areng Valley from illegal logging and the hydropower dam".
Should I stay or should I go?
Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers, said it would be “unethical” for engineering giant Sinohydro to proceed with its studies on the Cheay Areng Dam “given the strong-arm tactics and intimidation being used by the Cambodian government against activists working to protect the Areng Valley.”
In an earlier text message to supporters before his deportation, Gonzalez-Davidson remained defiant. “Stay strong, the battle is yours to be won. For nature, our life,” he wrote.