Two Mother Nature activists, who were released from prison yesterday, said they had been “robbed” of their freedom for the past five months after being arrested for documenting suspected illegal sand-bearing vessels in Koh Kong without evidence that they had committed a crime.
Both Hun Vannak, 35, and Dem Kundy, 21, were released from Koh Kong Provincial Prison after completing their sentences. The pair was found guilty late last month of “incitement to commit a felony” and making unauthorised recordings of a person “in a private place” – despite only filming ships, not people, from their own boat on the open sea.
While the activists were glad to have their freedom back, they said yesterday that they were still upset over the injustice of their conviction, and planned to appeal their guilty verdict before the February 26 deadline. They also plan to continue to expose environmental issues in the country.
“Me and Kundy have not done anything wrong, but they still put us in jail,” Vannak said. “We do not accept the results of the Koh Kong court.”
The pair was arrested while filming and taking photos of two boats off the coast of tycoon and ruling party Senator Ly Yong Phat’s special economic zone in Kiri Sakor district. After more than four months in detention, they were found guilty during a one-day trial on January 25 and sentenced to one year in prison, with seven months suspended.
Both activists will also have to pay 1 million riel (about $250) in fines, Vannak said. “We think it was an injustice,” he added. “They robbed our freedom for five months.” Kundy said he was relieved to have his normal life back. “It feels like [being] the monkey that was released from the zoo,” he said
He added he was “really happy” to be able to see his parents and friends again, though he was still “not happy with the court”.
Kundy, who described having to live alongside hardened criminals with no privacy in overcrowded cells, said he broke down a few times in prison.
‘”I cried sometimes,” he said. “I was not strong enough to stay there, but I had no other choice.”
Fellow activist Lim Kimsor said she hoped they “can get justice” from the Appeal Court.
However, Kundy was not as optimistic, saying justice only existed for the rich and powerful.
In Kong Chit, a provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, said the two had simply been working to protect and preserve the country’s resources, and never should have been charged in the first place.
Their sentences could deter other young people from being involved in activism, and the conviction will leave a “historical scar” on both men’s records, he added.
Kundy’s mother, Doung Saktheary, said she was happy to see her son freed, and would “encourage him to continue” his activism.
Kundy and Vannak, meanwhile, said they plan to resume the project they were working on when they were arrested, and will continue to expose other environmental problems in the country.
“I really missed my work,” Vannak said. “We have a lot of work.”
Kundy added the “job still continues”.