UK Tight-Lipped Over Mother Nature Environmentalists’ Arrests

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Sun Ratha, left, and Yim Leanghy sit inside a car in a photo posted to Mother Nature Cambodia’s Facebook page on June 20, 2021. (Licadho)
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The British Embassy on Wednesday declined to say whether the U.K.’s visiting foreign secretary raised concerns over the arrests of three Mother Nature environmentalists charged with plotting and insulting the king.

Sun Ratha, Yim Leanghy and Ly Chandaravuth face up to 10 years in jail for plotting and five years for insulting the king following their arrests last week. Ratha and Chandaravuth were arrested on the Phnom Penh riverside while photographing sewage discharge.

U.K. foreign secretary Dominic Raab made a one-day visit to Cambodia on Wednesday, eschewing Covid-19 quarantine protocols for a quick day of meetings with Environment Minister Say Sam Al and Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn, as well as visits to Khmer Rouge genocide memorials and the Documentation Center of Cambodia.

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director earlier urged Raab to raise the environmentalists’ arrests during meetings with Cambodian government officials.

“Foreign Secretary Raab’s visit comes in the midst of a human rights crisis in Cambodia, and both his talking points and public pronouncements need to reflect that,” Robertson said. “Raab reportedly plans to raise environmental issues such as climate change, but what about the arrests and imprisonment of activists trying to protect the Prey Lang forest or preserve Phnom Penh’s wetlands?”

Raab should call for activists’ immediate and unconditional release, he said.

British Embassy spokesperson Vuthy Sokanha, however, declined to say whether Raab had raised the issue of the Mother Nature activists’ arrests during his meetings.

In Facebook posts, the embassy said Raab discussed “Cambodia’s climate ambitions,” reforestation, biodiversity and the illegal wildlife trade with Sam Al; and trade, Covid-19 recovery, human rights and Myanmar with Sokhonn.

“The Foreign Secretary also emphasised the deep relationship of the two countries in which this year marks 30 years since the UK reopened the British Embassy in Cambodia,” the embassy post said of the Sam Al meeting.

On Wednesday, French ambassador Eva Nguyen Binh also met Interior Minister Sar Kheng, where she raised the arrests of the young environmentalists, according to a French Embassy Facebook post.

Embassy spokesperson Hugo Wavrin said the embassy had no further comment.

Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg is among those who have expressed support for the Mother Nature activists, saying on Twitter: “This is outrageous.”

Cambodian national team footballer Thierry Chantha Bin and entertainers Peypey Dy, Kesorrr and Jenny Vee have also shared messages about the environmentalists.

An Interior Ministry spokesperson said last week that Mother Nature “got foreign money to commit rebellious actions to incite [people] to topple the government,” while government-aligned Fresh News on Tuesday posted a video from an apparent Zoom meeting where the activists discussed a cartoon of Prime Minister Hun Sen wearing a royal crown.

Additional reporting by Michael Dickison

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