The Kratie Provincial Court on February 8 released five detained forest activists who had been arrested on February 5 for illegally trespassing in a protected area, according to deputy prosecutor Sor Vuthy.
The five forest activists are Ouch Leng, Heng Sros, Man Mat, Heng Ron and Tang Cheang.
Leng was the winner of the 2016 Goldman Prize for the Environment and he is the director of the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force – a group that officials claimed was not properly registered with the Ministry of Interior.
“The court has released the five forest activists without charges,” Vuthy said.
Sam Sokunthea, the Licadho lawyer representing the forest activists, said the five were released after the provincial court and environment department made them sign two letters promising not to repeat their action.
“My clients were asked by the environment department to sign a letter agreeing not to enter the prohibited area of Prey Lang without permission. The prosecutor also asked them to sign a letter saying that if they don’t register with the interior ministry, they cannot do any further activities as an organisation,” Sokunthea said.
All five agreed to these conditions, which secured their release without the court filing any criminal charges, he said.
Soeung Sen Karuna, the senior investigator for local rights group Adhoc, said the provincial court finished their interrogation and released the five activists at around 9:45am on February 8.
“According to my inquiries, the five forest activists were given a contract by the court to ban them from further forest protection activities and to register their organisation with the interior ministry.
“But what the five have been working on is protecting forest in the name of activists and citizens only,” he said.
Provincial environment department officers arrested the activists after they and about five other community members had campaigned to protect the forest by planting trees and hanging signs on trees to discourage logging in Prey Lang in Sambor district’ Kampong Cham commune.
Provincial environment department director Duong Chhay Savuth declined to comment.