Arrested last year by two environmental friends, Thun Rotha did not see his now 14-month-old son.
“She was arrested when our son was six months old,” Rotha’s wife Pat Raksmey told Al Jazeera.
“It simply came to our notice then. He did not encourage anyone. He asks the authorities. ”
Rotha is one of three members of the Nature Nature Women NGO that was arrested in 2020 after preparing a house for the house of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to express their concerns over plans to fill the largest lake in Phnom Penh, Boeung Tamok and grow page.
After being arraigned in court last week, 29-year-old Rotha was sentenced to 20 months in prison for “violence or disturbing the peace” and fined $ 1,000, while two 22-year-old Long Kunthea and 19-year-old Phuong Keo Raksmey were sentenced to life in prison. 18 months in prison and the same fine as he was found guilty of the same offense. The term refers to the time in which it has been used.
Their support has been criticized by the United Nations, as well as non-governmental organizations outside the country, who have called on the government to release the three from prisons as soon as possible.
Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Watch, said the trial was “shameful”.
This “strengthens the government’s residual policy in order to reduce environmental degradation and conflict,” he said.
“The decision also shows how the court can violate and uphold the human rights and fundamental freedoms that the government has recognized,” he added.
“I am concerned about the way in which human rights abuses in Cambodia have been increased since July 2020.”
Defending ‘all good things’
Two other defendants were also acquitted of the same charge when the court ordered their arrest.
Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, a Spanish national founder and founder of Nature Nature’s deportees in 2015, was sentenced to 20 months in prison, while Chea Kunthin, who is in hiding, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined $ 1,000.
“These young people have been arrested for trying to protect Phnom Penh’s vast ocean and preserve it for present and future generations,” said Naly Pilorge, director of LICADHO, a well-known human rights organization in Cambodia, which has given permission to human rights activists. “These conservationists have suffered for a long time and we call on the authorities to release them from overcrowded prisons so that they can be reunited with their families and communities.”
Boeung Tamok covers about 3,000 hectares (7,413 acres) in the Cambodian capital and not only helps prevent flooding but also provides cash or food for hundreds of families.
In recent years, the government has transferred more than 500 hectares of the lake (1,236 acres) of the lake to government agencies and commercial enterprises – some politically affiliated – for development, according to a law cited by the Voice of Democracy.
The imprisonment of Women of Nature is part of the struggle for civil liberties in all its forms – from protests to political and anti-apartheid movements. The government has criticized some protesters and protesters for trying to overthrow the government by initiating “racial change”.
As of July last year, the UN and LICADHO have documented the arrest of at least 24 human rights activists and while some have been released, more than 10 are being held. The detainees include monks, rappers, a leader of political parties and members of anti-government activists, who oppose the government.
Gonzalez-Davidson founded Mothers of Nature in 2013 to help local people plan peacefully to protect their environment and expose harm. Their first project was against an electric dam in the Areng Valley in the westwest of the country.
He said he and his team have been concerned about their safety from the beginning but have not been banned.
“After years of self-defense, a person becomes brave and courageous, and brave enough to fight for a better world, where the natural resources of the world are protected, not destroyed for the benefit of the few,” he told Al Jazeera. they want to protect their interests “.
Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Asia Division, said members of Nature’s women, as well as other human rights activists, had been arrested for public misconduct.
“The government views Nature Nature’s women as a simple trumpet player who promotes corruption and bribery, especially on projects with capitalists that have damaged the environment and the lives of local people,” he said.
“Indigenous women stand up for human rights and encourage communities to speak out against destructive practices, and the government does not want to be coerced. As a result, they follow Nature’s mother because they think that by arresting civilians, the affected villagers will not be brave enough to resist.”
Since 2003, manufacturers have filled more than 60 percent of Phnom Penh lakes and more than 40 percent of its wetlands, according to Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, a Cambodian civil rights group.
The most notable case was Boeung Kak, the city’s largest lake, where thousands of people were evicted from their homes after the company was politically connected in 2007 and pumped sand.
Criticism of the system led to regular protests. Many community leaders from Beoung Kak, including freedom fighter Tep Vanny, have been arrested and imprisoned several times for opposing their rights.
Pradeep Wagle, a representative of Cambodia’s office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which oversees the arrest and detention of torture in Cambodia, said his office had learned that 17 people, including six women, were human rights activists. madera. criminal organizations have been charged with felony criminal mischief since 2020.
He also noted that international humanitarian law and standards in Cambodia have said that “human rights abuses, in their own right, are not to be blamed.”
“We therefore urge the government to remain steadfast in its commitment to ensure that people are not held accountable for human rights abuses. We also urge the government to ensure that justice and non-discrimination are always respected. ”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice and the Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC), Chin Malin, said the criticism was a coup d’état, and that the courts were independent.
“The indictment is a court opinion,” Malin said. “There are reasons and accusations.”
“Helping all of them [they] they have to go to court which means they have to give evidence and evidence to be tried. ”
“These and political allegations have nothing to do with the court and are not a legitimate way to protect the accused.”
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra declined to comment on the case.
“The ministry of [environment] they have no comment on the court decision, ”he said.
Pat Raksmey and her husband were expected to be jailed for a number of years for environmental reasons in Cambodia.
Gonzalez-Davidson was fired after the government was forced to abandon its power generation plans in the Areng Valley during intense opposition.
Some critics have endured threats, or abuse. Leng Ouch, who received the Goldman Award for his work on disclosing illegal logging, has been arrested and imprisoned twice over the years.
Chut Wutty, another human rights activist, was shot and killed by military police investigating an illegal timber trade in 2012.
Raksmey describes her husband’s convictions as “unjust”.
“She is innocent,” he said, to be released. “Not just my husband but all the young people who work in the environment.
“These young people are to be commended and to have respect that was not found guilty in this case.”
While his family’s hopes seem bleak, Raksmey says he won’t worry about helping his son if he chooses to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“In the future if my son loves natural activities, then I will let him and encourage him to do them,” she said. “We know we can’t live without nature, so protecting the environment is a good job.”