NGO staff members are posting photos of themselves online in a social media campaign calling for the release of arrested environmental activists.
Three members of environmental group Mother Nature were arrested and charged with plotting this month, joining three other members sentenced for incitement earlier this year.
Representatives of the U.S., France, Australia and Sweden have raised concerns over the arrests, including U.S. ambassador Patrick Murphy saying “documenting pollution is a public service, not terrorism.”
The three activists arrested this month were photographing sewage discharge from Phnom Penh’s riverside, though the Interior Ministry has said environmentalism was only a banner under which the group was trying to topple the government.
Under the slogan “#FreeEnvironmentalActivists,” staff members at the Cambodian Youth Network, Cambodian Center for Human Rights, Licadho and others posted photos on Facebook calling for the activists’ release. Many held up a printed page saying, “Join us in protecting the environment and supporting imprisoned environmentalists.” Mother Nature shared photos of others with the sign in Korean, German, Japanese and other languages.
San Mala, advocacy officer at the Cambodian Youth Network, said the NGOs’ social media campaign was aimed at showing solidarity for the environmentalists.
“The government should be understanding, and be sympathetic to the activities of all environmental activists, because they are young people with a heart and willingness to work for the national interest,” Mala said. “[They] should not be arrested or severely punished.”
Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin and Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Y Rin declined to comment.
Khun Tharo, an official at labor rights group Central, said his NGO also participated in the campaign.
Civil society could not stand by and watch the injustice against the environmental activists, he said.
“The government should support and encourage the environmental youth,” Tharo said. “They should be praised by the state.”
Cambodian have the right and duty to express dissatisfaction and concern for what they see as government wrongdoing, he said.
Phnom Penh residents last week said they were wary of talking about the case in public, though some also expressed support for the environmentalists’ work.