Mother Nature Activists Remain Imprisoned After Sentence Reductions

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Thun Ratha and Phuon Keoreaksmey outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on May 5, 2021. (Sok Chantravuth/VOD)
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The Phnom Penh Appeal Court on Friday reduced the prison sentences of three jailed activists with the environmentalist group Mother Nature, theoretically making them eligible for release.

Long Kunthea, Thun Ratha and Phuon Keoreaksmey were convicted in May and handed prison sentences of 18-20 months and fines of $1,000. They had been arrested in September 2020 and accused of incitement for planning a one-person march to advocate against the filling of Boeung Tamok lake in Phnom Penh. The group has been imprisoned since then and have since been hit with additional criminal charges of plotting.

The Appeal Court, which held a hearing for the three activists in late October, announced Friday morning a reduction in their sentences to 14 months, which would allow the trio to be freed on time served. Kunthea and Keoreaksmey told a VOD reporter they expected to be released Friday evening, but they have not yet left prison as of publication of this article. 

Their defense lawyer, Sam Sokong, said that while the activists have completed their reduced sentences for the earlier incitement charges, they’re now being held in pretrial detention for the plotting charges. Since the trio was already serving their prison sentences when those additional charges were filed, Sokong explained, the defense had not yet asked for bail but will do so next week.

If that request for bail is granted, the activists should be able to leave prison.

Despite their reduced sentences, the two activists said they were unhappy with the court’s decision to uphold their convictions and reasserting their innocence of any wrongdoing.

“We consider the court’s decision is still an injustice for us because we have not done anything wrong as we were charged,” Kunthea said. 

Ratha said their advocacy was of national interest and he would consider appealing the guilty verdict after consulting with his lawyers. 

“I am still strong because this is a matter for the whole country. I am not happy with the court’s decision because I have not committed [a crime] as I was charged,” Ratha said. 

The three activists are also facing a plotting charge in a case that involves three other Mother Nature activists who were arrested in June. Sun Ratha and Yim Leanghy are charged with plotting and insulting the king, while Ly Chandaravuth is charged only for plotting.

The verdict coincided with the Friday morning release of five imprisoned activists from the officially banned opposition CNRP, as well as the youth activist groups Khmer Student Intelligent League Association and Khmer Thavrak.

Additional reporting by Ouch Sony

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