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Court upholds sentences of Mother Nature activists

Court upholds sentences of Mother Nature activists

The Appeal Court on Monday upheld the Koh Kong Provincial Court’s decision to sentence two former Mother Nature activists to a year each in prison after hearing the pair’s appeal earlier this month.

In January last year, the Koh Kong Provincial Court sentenced Hun Vannak and Dem Kundy – two activists from the conservation group Mother Nature – to a year’s imprisonment, with seven months suspended. They were also fined one million riel ($250) each.

The men were arrested in September 2017 for photographing boats they suspected were carrying silica sand off the coast of a special economic zone belonging to ruling party Senator Ly Yong Phat in Kiri Sakor district’s Prek Khsach commune.

The original complaint against them was filed by the chief of staff of Yong Phat’s LYP Group, Chan Nakry.

They were placed into custody on September 11, 2017, upon being charged with “incitement to commit a felony” and making unauthorised recordings of a person “in a private place”.

Defence lawyer Sam Chamroeun told The Post that Judge Nhoung Thol declared the verdict at 9am in the presence of one of his clients.

Chamroeun said it was true that his clients had taken photographs but claimed it should not have been deemed a private place. “I don’t know what our next course of action will be, but I’ll discuss it with my clients,” he said.

Vannak, who had listened to the verdict in court, said the decision was unfair because their actions were not illegal.

He said that during cross-examination, even the prosecution’s representatives had defended their innocence, and the verdict was in complete contrast with what was heard in court.

“The court said we were definitely at the scene and took photos of the ships transporting the sand but we did not climb up to the ship, only taking photos from a distance. But because we did not ask permission, the court decided to uphold the verdict.

“This is unfair because we were very open about our activities and it’s a public space, not a private space at all. The court’s decision is very unjust,” Vannak said.

He said he would consult his lawyer about appealing to the Supreme Court, where he expects to receive justice. “We are just normal activists. We still have hope because our Supreme Court has provided justice in some cases.

“Our case is different from other cases as it doesn’t have witnesses or any evidence at all showing that we were at fault,” Vannak said.

In 2015, three other Mother Nature activists – Sun Mala, Sim Samnang and Try Sovikea – were sentenced to 18 months in prison by the Koh Kong Provincial Court for threatening to burn sand-dredging equipment.

The case against Mother Nature co-founder Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, who had been charged with being an accomplice in “threatening to cause destruction, defacement or damage” and inciting others to do the same, was dropped on Thursday.

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