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Cambodia
09.11.21
Urgent Interventions

Cambodia: Ongoing arbitrary detention of Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phoun Keo Reaksmey

Photo: @CambodiaMother

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

New information
KHM 002 / 0920 / OBS 101.3
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment
Cambodia
November 9, 2021

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Cambodia.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed about the suspension of parts of the prison sentences against environmental activists and members of Mother Nature Cambodia[1] Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea, and Phoun Keo Reaksmey. Mr. Ratha remains detained in Phnom Penh’s Correctional Centre 1, while Mses. Kunthea and Keo Reaksmey remain detained in Phnom Penh’s Correctional Centre 2.

On November 5, 2021, the Phnom Penh Appeal Court suspended parts of the prison sentences issued against the three Mother Nature Cambodia activists on May 5, 2021 by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Long Kunthea and Phoun Keo Reaksmey had initially been sentenced to 18 months in prison and a fine of 4 million riel (approximately 825 Euros) on charges of “incitement to cause societal chaos” (Articles 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code), while Thun Ratha had been sentenced to 20 months in prison and a fine of 4 million riel on the same charges.

Following the Appeal Court’s decision, Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phoun Keo Reaksmey’s prison sentence was reduced to 14 months. Moreover, they have been imposed a three-year probation period (Articles 119 and 120 of the Criminal Code), during which the three activists will be requested to inform the prosecutor of any change of address, profession and intention to leave the country. They will also not be allowed to associate with any of the convicted activists in the same case. Finally, should they be convicted of “incitement to cause societal chaos” during the probation period, they will have to serve the full original sentence in addition to any new one. Arbitrarily arrested and detained since September 3, 2020, Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phoun Keo should have been released after the Appeal Court’s decision because they served their 14-month prison sentences. However, they remain detained on charges of “plotting” (Article 453 of the Criminal Code) pressed against them by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on July 19, 2021. If found guilty in this case, they could face up to 10 years in prison.

The Observatory recalls that the three activists were arbitrarily arrested on September 3, 2020 for planning a solo protest calling for the protection of Phnom Penh’s Bueng Ta-mouk lake. On September 7, 2020, the Ministry of Interior released a statement instructing authorities to take legal action against members of Mother Nature Cambodia, accusing the group of “causing social chaos”, and labelling the organisation as illegal for not being registered under the repressive Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (“LANGO”).

The Observatory recalls that on the day in which the initial sentence was handed against the three activists, Mother Nature activist Alejandro González-Davidson and Khmer Thavrak[2] member Chea Kunthin were sentenced in absentia to 20 and 18 months in prison respectively, on charges of “accomplice” (Article 29 of the Cambodian Criminal Code) and “incitement to cause societal chaos”, and to a fine of 4 million riel each.

The Observatory reiterates its deepest concern about the Cambodian authorities’ systematic use of legal harassment and a politicised judicial system to target land and environmental activists, and recalls that this is not the first time that Mother Nature Cambodia activists have faced such harassment.

The Observatory strongly condemns the ongoing judicial harassment and arbitrary detention of Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phoun Keo Reaksmey, as well as the judicial harassment of Alejandro González-Davidson and Chea Kunthin, as it seems to be only aimed at punishing them for their legitimate environmental and human rights activities, and urges the Cambodian authorities to put an end to all acts of harassment against the above-mentioned human rights defenders and immediately and unconditionally release them.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Cambodia to urge them to:

  1. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea, Phoun Keo Reaksmey, and Chea Kunthin, and all other human rights defenders in Cambodia;
  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea, and Phoun Keo Reaksmey, since their detention is arbitrary as it seems to be merely aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities;
  1. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea, Phoun Keo Reaksmey, Chea Kunthin, and Alejandro González-Davidson, and all other human rights defenders in Cambodia, and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities in all circumstances without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.

Addresses:

  • Mr. Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: leewood_phu@nida.gov.kh / cppparty@gmail.com
  • Mr. Sar Kheng, Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: moi@cambodia.gov.kh
  • Mr. Ly Chantola, President of the Cambodian Bar Association. Email: info@bakc.org.kh
  • Ambassador Mr. Ney Samol, Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: camemb.gva@mfa.gov.kh

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Cambodia in your respective countries.

***

Geneva-Paris, November 9, 2021

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

  • E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
  • Tel OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39
  • Tel FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18


[1] Mother Nature is an environmental rights grassroots organisation that was officially de-registered in September 2017 but continues its activities as a movement of concerned citizens.

[2] Khmer Thavrak is a youth group created in 2020 that advocates against social injustices and raises concerns about environmental issues in Cambodia.

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