Jailed Forest Activist’s Wife Says He Is Sick in Prison

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Kham Salong sits at her and Chhorn Phalla’s home in Ratanakiri province on July 17, 2022. (Meng Kroypunlok/VOD)

Jailed forest activist Chorn Phalla’s wife said Phalla was getting sick in prison and asked for his release, though a prison official disputed the account saying there were doctors inside and the activist was fine.

Phalla, a long-time activist, has raised allegations against local officials for ignoring deforestation and encroaching on community forests. But since, he has faced court action against him instead.

Phalla was arrested in September last year and sentenced in November to five years in prison for clearing land. The Appeal Court overturned the verdict in July, but Phalla was sentenced around the same time in a separate case by the Ratanakiri Provincial Court to six years in jail for instigating forest loss.

His wife, Kham Salong, said last week that she had visited her husband and found he was not doing well. His diabetes and high blood pressure had deteriorated since going to prison, she said.

“He is having difficulties. He has blood pressure and diabetes. He stays in one place without freedom like us. He has a disease. He always gets dizzy,” Salong said.

She asked the court to let her husband out so he can get better. She also argued that Phalla had done nothing wrong.

“I request the court to find justice for me. He wasn’t wrong. He defends [the forests]. Why arrest him like this?”

Ratanakiri court spokesperson Keo Pisoth said a judge could rule on requests to release an inmate for serious illness based on a report from the prison director.

Ratanakiri prison director Ouk Kemchun, however, disputed that Phalla was sick. The prison had doctors on duty day and night, and if someone was seriously sick, the prison would send them to a provincial hospital, he said.

“No one has reported it to me. There is no patient,” Kemchun said. “Don’t worry.”

Phalla’s case has received particular attention from the U.N., which raised concerns in May about “arbitrary detention, attack, threat, criminalization and violations of the right to due process” against Phalla.

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