The trial of three activists from environmental group Mother Nature, charged with threatening to damage sand-dredging equipment, wrapped yesterday at Koh Kong Provincial Court, with the judge setting July 1 for a verdict.
San Mala, 24, Try Sovikea, 26, and Sim Somnang, 29, have been in pretrial detention since August in the high-profile case, which critics say is being pursued to stifle protests against the province’s lucrative sand-mining industry.
The trio – charged with “making a threat followed by an order” – was arrested following a campaign in July last year, which saw activists board dredging vessels in a bid to push them from the area’s mangrove estuaries.
In court on Monday, the plaintiffs, including a district deputy governor and an employee from sand-mining company Direct Access, whose ships were boarded, accused the protesters of threatening to burn the equipment.
According to a court monitor at the hearing, the second and final day of hearings yesterday began with further cross examination of the accused, who deny the charge, which carries a maximum two-year jail term.
They were grilled about their NGO’s structure and about the role of Mother Nature co-founder Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, who is charged as an accomplice but will be tried in absentia after being deported by the government, which refused to renew the activist’s visa.
The court then heard from nine witnesses for the defence, including Mother Nature staffer Phal Chamroeun, a photographer and seven members of villages that joined the protest.
Some of the witnesses told the court that it was the dredgers who were violent towards the activists, according to the monitor, who declined to be named.
Contacted after the hearing, Chamroeun, the witness, rejected the prosecution’s case. “Our activists did not do what the company accused,” he said.
“In court, they responded that they do anything to defend nature but had no intention [of damaging the equipment].”
Both the prosecution and defence yesterday also presented video evidence of the protests, which included nothing recognisable as violence or threats, the monitor said, adding that the defence’s closing arguments focused on the environmental and social harm caused by dredging.
Speaking via phone, Try Kimly, the sister of Sovikea, one of the three accused, said she was hoping for the best.
“I hope my brother and the other two are released and get good news on July 1, because they did not do anything wrong,” she said.
“I believe my brother and my family will come back home; I’m waiting for the day to come and hurry up so I know the result.”