A group of 48 civil society organisations has called on the Court of Appeal to reverse the July conviction of three Mother Nature activists as their trial begins today, though neither the environmentalists nor their lawyers are expected to appear.
The three men – Sun Mala, Try Sovikea and Sim Somnang – were found guilty of “making threats to destroy” in the high-profile case after being charged with boarding boats belonging to sand-dredging firm Direct Access during a pair of 2015 protests and threatening to destroy the firm’s equipment.
While the three were sentenced to 18 months – eight of which were suspended – and ordered to pay $25,000 compensation to Direct Access, they appealed. Last week, the three fled the country for fear of seeing their suspended prison sentences overturned by the higher court.
Mala yesterday said the trio left the country on January 23 fearing repercussions tied to recent revelations by Mother Nature of discrepancies in sand-export data between Cambodia and Singapore.
“We suspect the court is under the pressure and will be used as a tool to take revenge against environmental activists,” he said, via online message.
The UN data he referenced showed 72.2 million tonnes of sand exports from the Kingdom to Singapore from 2007 to 2015, with local data recording just 2.8 million tonnes headed to the island nation. The Mines Ministry last week revised their export figures to 16 million, still leaving a 56 million tonne discrepancy.
Mala yesterday refused to divulge the trio’s location, adding that they were afraid of a counter appeal being filed by Koh Kong prosecutors, the spectre of which he said had been raised by a high-ranking official who had warned them against appealing.
“He did not want me to file [the] appeal complaint and told me he would [ask the] company not [to demand the $25,000 in court-ordered compensation],” he said, declining to provide the official’s identity.
“He also stressed that the prosecutor will file an appeal complaint if we file a complaint and that the result would be worse [for us],” Mala said.
Sam Chamroeun, a lawyer for the trio, said he had filed a motion yesterday to postpone the hearing because defence witnesses had not yet received summonses from the court.
“The judge will consider [today] whether the hearing should be held or not,” he said, adding that the defence team also planned to skip the hearing.
However, Appeal Court spokesman Touch Tharith said the hearing was still on the court’s schedule and that he was unaware of a request to postpone. He did say that the hearing will not proceed if there was no legal representation for the defendants.
Among the civil society groups signing on to the statement, which pointed to numerous holes in the prosecution’s case last July, were the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, Adhoc and the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability Cambodia.
“Further, powerful exculpatory evidence was not given due consideration by the court despite its ready availability, suggesting that this was a politically-motivated prosecution,” the statement reads.