Mother Nature, Khmer Thavrak Activists Appear in Court to Appeal Cases

4 min read
Activists protest in Phnom Penh on September 7, 2020, in a photo posted to the Facebook page of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association.

A jailed Mother Nature environmentalist and Khmer Thavrak activist appeared at the Appeal Court on Tuesday, where a judge denied requests to drop their cases or grant bail, while three female activists from the groups were unable to attend due to flooding in their prison.

Khmer Thavrak activists Chhoeun Daravy and Hun Vannak, and Mother Nature’s Long Kunthea, Phuong Keorasmey and Thun Ratha, were arrested in August and September, respectively, and charged with incitement to disturb social security.

On Tuesday, lawyer Sam Chamroeun asked that the case against the Mother Nature environmentalists be dropped and for the Khmer Thavrak activists to be released on bail.

Kunthea, Keorasmey and Ratha were arrested as they were about to film a one-woman march to raise awareness about the filling in of Boeng Tamok, one of Phnom Penh’s “last lakes.”

Chamroeun told VOD after the hearings on Tuesday that he had argued their detentions were illegal.

“From the very beginning … the court did not have sufficient grounds of fact and law to do so,” he said.

The environmental group’s founder, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, said at the time of their arrests that Kunthea, 22, was to march toward the prime minister’s house with Keorasmey, 19, filming her.

“You’re sending 20-year-old girls to jail for wanting to meet the prime minister,” Gonzalez-Davidson said at the time. “No journalist or activist has been arrested for saying they plan to post things on Facebook.”

Meanwhile, Daravy and Vannak, of Khmer Thavrak, had led a nationalistic “I Love the Nation” protest as well as joined rallies in support of jailed unionist Rong Chhun, who was arrested in late July over comments about Cambodia losing land to Vietnam.

Vannak’s mother, Ty Mary, looked through a window in the courtroom door as the closed hearing proceeded.

“When I see his face, it makes me happy,” she said. Mary added that she was able to speak to Vannak at the courthouse, and he had asked for $400 to help pay for prison expenses such as food.

She said she did not think her son had committed a crime. He had not damaged any property, she said.

Chamroeun, the lawyer, said he had asked for bail for Daravy and Vannak, but presiding judge Khun Leang Meng denied the request saying it was to ensure that the crime would not be repeated and that the defendants would appear at court proceedings.

Appeal Court president You Bunleng could not be reached for comment.

Daravy, Kunthea and Keorasmey were unable to attend due to flooding at Prey Sar’s Correctional Center 2.

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