Forest Defender Acquitted in One Case, Remains in Prison on Second Conviction 

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Environmental activist Chhorn Phalla speaks at a press conference in 2020. (Chorn Chanren/VOD)
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A prominent environmentalist had his conviction overturned by an appeal court but will likely remain in prison on account of a second sentencing earlier this month, said a lawyer.

The Appeal Court in Tbong Khmum on Wednesday overturned the December 2021 conviction of Chhorn Phalla, a forest defender in Ratanakiri province.

Sam Titseyha, Phalla’s lawyer, said judges did not give a reason during the court hearing, and he was still waiting for a final written decision.

Phalla was sentenced to five years in prison for illegally clearing land in 2019 and 2020 in Lumphat. He was arrested in September when he was asked to update the address on his ID card.

Titseyha said Phalla would be free of these charges once the final decision was released, but would remain in prison because of a second conviction.

According to rights group Licadho, Phalla and four others were convicted on July 8 and sentenced to six years in relation to a meeting the five had in 2017 to discuss forest loss. They were charged with instigating damage to forest land in Lumphat district under the Protected Areas Law and the Criminal Code.

Titseiha added that Phalla did not have any land nor did he commit the crimes he was accused of in the second case.

“On the other hand, Chhorn Phalla is the only one who defended the land of the location where he was charged, which means that the conviction of the Ratanakiri court was not well considered in every aspect of the facts and the evidence,” he said.

Phalla’s wife, Kham Salong, welcomed the appeal decision but wanted her husband released from prison.

“He never received any encouragement to protect the forest, but only received threats, received injustice,” he said.

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