Briefs: Army Commander Takes Center Stage at Press Freedom Event, Mother Nature in Supreme Court

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Army commander Hun Manet, center, was the keynote speaker at a press freedom event on May 3, 2022. (Royal Cambodian Army’s Facebook page)

Organizers of a press freedom event defended their decision to invite army commander and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son Hun Manet as chief guest to address journalists on Tuesday.

Hun Manet, who was selected as heir apparent to his father in December, spoke as the chief guest at a World Press Freedom Day event on Tuesday. The event was organized by the Information Ministry and U.N. body Unesco, with promotional material for the event also listing Sweden and the European Union.

The 42-year-old Manet is commander of the army, head of the CPP’s youth wing and picked by the ruling party’s central committee in December to succeed Hun Sen, though the prime minister has refused to say when the transition would happen.

Mikel Aguirre Idiaquez, a Unesco representative, said Manet was representing the prime minister of Cambodia, in response to VOD queries about why the military official was speaking at a press freedom event.

The Unesco representative also pointed to speeches given by officials from CamboJA and CCIM at Tuesday’s event, as well as a social media campaign that involved women journalists, civil society groups and media organizations. (CCIM is the parent organization of VOD)

Camilla Ottoson, who works the Swedish Embassy’s office in Phnom Penh, directed queries about Manet’s inclusion to Unesco. She too highlighted speeches given by CamboJA and CCIM representatives.

“On today’s event CCIM as well as CamboJa spoke and delivered some clear messages on the situation for journalists in Cambodia and issues of concern,” she said.

The European Union Delegation to Cambodia said they were not organizers and had no input on the guest and speaker list.

— Ananth Baliga

Mother Nature Founder Appeals in Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld an incitement conviction against deported Mother Nature co-founder Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson.

Defense lawyer Sam Chamroeun argued there had not been enough facts presented to prove that Gonzalez-Davidson was involved, adding that his client had not been able to defend himself in court.

Gonzalez-Davidson was deported in 2015, and has been repeatedly denied re-entry.

“It’s unclear and unreasonable to say that Alex committed it. The decision is not consistent with each other and my client has had no opportunity to challenge it,” Chamroeun said.

The lawyer added outside the court that the case was related to the 2020 arrests of Long Kunthea, Phuon Keoreaksmey and Thun Ratha while planning a video about the filling of Phnom Penh lake Boeng Tamok. They and Gonzalez-Davidson were sentenced to 18-20 months in prison. Another defendant, Chea Kunthin, was also sentenced in absentia.

Tuesday’s appeal only applied to Gonzalez-Davidson, and the court upheld his 20-month sentence and $1,000 fine, Chamroeun said.

Ratha said he had also appealed, but his hearing was delayed. “My actions were to protect the environment in the public interest and for the whole country. … We never incited chaos, and our activists have never caused chaos.”

— Mech Dara

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