Ratanakiri Environmentalist Sentenced to Five Years in Prison

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Environmental activist Chhorn Phalla speaks at a press conference in 2020. (Chorn Chanren/VOD)

Environmental activist Chhorn Phalla was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment by the Ratanakiri Provincial Court on Wednesday for illegally clearing forests.

Phalla, a long-time activist, previously raised allegations that local officials were encroaching on community forests and that they beat him. Officials then filed a court complaint that Phalla was “causing trouble” at a public forum.

He was arrested on September 20 after being called into the police station to update the address on his identification card. The arrest was based on a February arrest warrant that said he was accused of clearing forests in Lumphat district in 2019 and 2020.

On Wednesday, Keo Pheakdey, spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office, said Phalla had been sentenced by judge Chan Seiha to five years in jail under Article 62 of the Protected Areas Law.

Phalla was specifically found guilty of “clearing, encroaching, burning or clearing forest” to claim ownership, he said.

The crime is considered “fourth grade” and is punishable by five to 10 years in jail.

“He has the right to appeal according to the law,” Pheakdey said.

Phalla’s defense lawyer Sam Titseyha said the conviction was an injustice.

“It is very unfair for my client, because Chhorn Phalla is an activist helping to protect the forests, forestry land and the community, which is in the common interest,” he said. “He has been charged, while the loggers have been acquitted.”

Titseyha added that he was preparing to appeal.

“I have already prepared an application to file a complaint to the Court of Appeal,” he said. “For now, I am just waiting for what the Court of Appeal will do next.”

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