Cambodian Authorities Keep Environmental Activists in Jail as They Await Trial

20 Aug
Source: RFA 2015-08-20

A boat dredges sand in southwestern Cambodia’s Koh Kong province, Feb. 14 2015. RFA court in southwestern Cambodia decided Wednesday to keep three environmental activists in jail while they await trial on criminal charges related to a protest against a company accused of illegal sand dredging, an official from a domestic rights group said.


The trio from the domestic nongovernmental organization Mother Nature — San Mala, 24, Try Sovikea, 26, and Sim Somnang, 29 — were arrested Monday after they failed to appear at a police station to answer questions about their involvement in a protest against the Vietnamese firms International Rainbow Co. Ltd. and Direct Access Company which are engaged in dredging activities in a Koh Kong province estuary.

During the protest, they along with villagers from Thnong village, Kandol commune, and Tameak village, Andong Teuk commune, in Batum Sakor district had boarded and towed two sand-dredging boats owned by the companies.

Police arrested the three activists as they observed sand-dredging activities and charged them with “threats to destroy followed by an order,” which carries a maximum penalty of up to two years in prison.

A judge questioned Sim Somnang at the provincial prison, but postponed discussions with the two others, according to local media reports, as about 100 villagers protested outside the facility and the provincial court, calling for the activists’ release.

More than 50 villagers spent the night in front of the courthouse, even though police threatened to seize their megaphone. They vowed to continue protesting until the court releases the activists.

“After the investigation period, we will not know for sure if the court is going to charge or release them because at this stage the defendants’ lawyers have four months to gather evidence to prove their clients’ innocence,” said  In Kong Chit, a provincial coordinator for the Cambodian rights group Licadho, which is providing legal representation to the three men.

Attorneys for the activists will work on finding evidence to support their clients as they await trial, he said.

“We urge the court to drop the charges against them and immediately release them without delay,” In Kong Chit told RFA’s Khmer Service.

RFA was unable to obtain comments from the Koh Kong provincial court.

Arrests are ‘ridiculous’

Mother Nature maintains that dredging in the area has caused pollution and riverbank collapses as well as reduced fish and crab populations on which local fisherman depend for their livelihoods.

The activists’ arrest occurred after Direct Access filed a complaint against the activists, charging that they caused more than U.S. $100,000 in damage to equipment, and district authorities claimed they created a public disturbance, local media reported.

A spokesman from the Ministry of Mines and Energy said Tuesday that the company was operating legally and had not violated the conditions of its licenses, the reports said.

Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, co-founder of Mother Nature, called the arrests of the three activists “ridiculous” and appealed to all Cambodians, especially young people, to continue protecting the country’s environment.

“Police have searched their [the activists’] rented house in Koh Kong and taken pictures without any warrants,” he told RFA. “We are concerned that the police have placed some drugs in there in order to arrest them,” he said.

Last February, authorities refused to renew Gonzalez-Davidson’s visa and expelled him from Cambodia.

The Cambodian government started issuing sand-dredging licenses in 2006, although many companies operate illegally without them. Companies engaged in the activity use the sand for construction work and export it to other countries in the region.

Senate Vote Paves Way for Lawmakers’ Arrests

19 Aug
Source: Cambodiadally  ,BY ALEX WILLEMYNS | AUGUST 19, 2015

The seven opposition CNRP lawmakers charged last year with “leading an insurrection” could be arrested and imprisoned in the same way that opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour was arrested and imprisoned over the weekend, Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said Tuesday.

On orders from Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was angered by a doctored diplomatic treaty the senator presented in a Facebook post, Mr. Sok Hour was charged on Sunday with forgery and incitement and sent to Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison despite his immunity as a senator.

Although the ruling CPP easily has the two-thirds majority in the Senate to remove Mr. Sok Hour’s immunity and legitimize the legal process, its senators met on Monday evening and decided it was not necessary to do so, citing an exception in the Constitution that allows arrests for crimes caught in “flagrante,” or in the act of being committed.

Mr. Malin said that the same legal reasoning could be applied to the seven CNRP members of the National Assembly whose “insurrection” charges over a violent Freedom Park protest on July 15 last year remain hanging over them.

“They share the similarities in that there is no need to seek the approval to remove the immunity,” Mr. Malin said. “However, if they want to remove the charges, they need to seek the three-quarters approval of the National Assembly.”

Besides requiring a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly —or Senate—to remove a lawmaker’s immunity, the Constitution allows either legislative body to seek a three-quarters majority to overrule the courts and remove a lawmaker’s charges.

Asked specifically whether authorities could arrest the seven charged CNRP lawmakers despite their immunity, which is protected by the CPP’s lack of a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, Mr. Malin said they could.

“Yes, of course, it is permitted. It is the same for members of the Senate and National Assembly. For non-flagrant cases, they need to remove the immunity. For flagrant cases, they do not need to. It is not the two-thirds process,” he said.

“If they want to stop the prosecution, they must get the three-quarters to remove the charge,” Mr. Malin reiterated.

Article 80 of the Constitution—like Article 104, upon which the Senate based its decision on Mr. Sok Hour—provides an exception to immunity of National Assembly members when police catch them in the act of committing a crime.

“The accusation, arrest, or detention of an assembly member shall be made only with the permission of the National Assembly…except in case of flagrante delicto. In that case, the competent authority shall immediately report to the National Assembly or to the Standing Committee for decision,” it says.

Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said the CPP-controlled Senate’s decision not to exercise its power to strip Mr. Sok Hour’s immunity on Monday evening but to let him be imprisoned anyway was a clear attempt to set a new precedent.

“This is an unconstitutional act that creates a precedent that the members of the parliament have no immunity at all, because now they can arrest anyone without lifting their immunity. Without immunity, they have nothing,” Mr. Panha said.

“It will allow the executive to put the members of the National Assembly in jail, and there will be no reason to lift their immunity,” he said. “It is not only those seven lawmakers [who risk arrest], but there could be many more.”

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he believed the Justice Ministry’s interpretation of “flagrante delicto” exceptions was a perversion of a clause meant only to allow police to intervene when lawmakers are in the act of committing a crime.

“It is very far-fetched. It is wrong and it is a distortion of the spirit of immunity,” Mr. Rainsy said by telephone before boarding a flight to Melbourne for a trip with deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha to meet supporters in Australia.

However, Mr. Rainsy said he would not be surprised if such an interpretation of immunity was used by the government, and suggested that only by keeping up his good relations with Mr. Hun Sen could he prevent attacks on the opposition.

“Anything is possible in Cambodia, and that is why you have to address the source of the problem, and I am trying to defuse the source of the tension. We do not want to give any pretext to anybody to crack down on us,” he said.

Sok Sam Oeun, a prominent human rights lawyer, said no precedent had been set since the 1993 Constitution was promulgated to interpret what constitutes a “flagrante” offense.

“In our law, it is not very clear. It is up to the Senate to interpret it as they wish. If they commit a violent crime like killing, it might apply. They could interpret it as a flagrant case, even if the arrest was not on the spot, but soon after,” Mr. Sam Oeun said.

“In this case, it was not a violent crime,” he said of Mr. Sok Hour’s arrest. “It is only a document, so I believe it is not a flagrant case, and they have to ask to remove the immunity.”

Mr. Hun Sen himself has repeatedly threatened to have the CNRP’s seven lawmakers arrested, arguing publicly that the immunity held by the lawmakers was a moot point.

“The seven lawmakers will still be jailed because you received immunity after you were charged,” Mr. Hun Sen said in January.

“Please study the law. Your side knows the law and our side knows the law,” the prime minister said. “Those who are on bail are only out temporarily, so the trial must proceed.”



Cambodian Government Takes Umbrage at US Congressman’s Comments on Land Grabs

18 Aug
Source: RFA,2015-08-18
lang right

Cambodian land rights activists hold a banner in front of the National Assembly building during the 29th World Habitat Day in Phnom Penh, Oct. 6, 2014. AFP

Cambodia’s Ministry of Land Management is acting in accordance with the country’s laws and making an effort to respect citizens’ rights, a ministry official said Tuesday, rejecting comments by a U.S. congressman that people in the Southeast Asian country are denied basic protection from land grabs.

U.S. Representative Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a press release on August 12, announcing a hearing in California on property rights in Cambodia and the Philippines, where citizens “are still denied basic protections under the law” when it comes to “the right to secure property, raise capital and freely participate in the economy.”

Seng Loth, deputy general director of the ministry’s administration department, refuted Royce’s assertion, saying Cambodia’s constitution has guaranteed citizens’ such rights under the 2001 Land Law, which has many sections and subsections on land ownership and land ownership registration.

The ministry has registered many people for legal land ownership, he said.

“So far, we’ve provided land titles for 4 million plots of land among 7 million plots that we must register for land ownership,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service. “We are doing it systematically from the grassroots level.”

Royce’s press release about the hearing suggested that land issues in Cambodia and the Philippines have slowed down the development of the countries, which the U.S. has sought to promote.

“This field hearing will seek to address these continuing concerns by hearing from witnesses who have long studied how land grabbing has significantly impacted the lives of Filipinos and Cambodians, as well as U.S. officials charged with promoting development in these important countries,” it said.

U.S. Representative Matt Salmon (R-AZ), chairman of the Asia and Pacific Subcommittee, said the hearing was being convened to explore land tenure, property rights and the rule of law in Southeast Asia.

“In order to better serve our citizens and protect their rights abroad, I look forward to hearing from our administration and private panel for their perspectives on how we can best work with governments in Southeast Asia to improve rule of law, accountability, and transparency,” he said in the press release.

Adhoc report on land rights

Seng Loth also called a report on land rights issued last month by the Cambodian rights group Adhoc biased and unrealistic.

The group’s report entitled “Whose Land?” said the number of land conflict complaints it had received in 2014 had increased slightly compared to the number it had received in 2013, despite a government initiative that indicated a positive situation.

Those who try to resolve such disputes continue to encounter many obstacles such as corruption and political interference, while government officials and wealthy people enjoy high levels of impunity, the report said.

“Adhoc’s numbers are too high, and this has strongly affected the effort of Ministry of Land Management and our country’s honor,” Seng Loth said, adding that the ministry was currently working on 800 land dispute cases.

Latt Ky, Adhoc’s land officer, said the report was based on accurate information, and that the group was seeking fair solutions and justice for the victims of land grabs.

The seizure of land for development—often without due process or fair compensation for displaced residents—has been a major cause of protest in Cambodia and other authoritarian Asian countries, including China and Myanmar.

Anti-Dredging Activists Jailed In Koh Kong

18 Aug
Source: Cambodiadally ,BY AUN PHEAP | AUGUST 18, 2015

Sun Mala, right, co-founder of environmental NGO Mother Nature, drives a boat toward a sand dredging barge operated by Direct Access in Koh Kong province’s Andoung Toek estuary on Thursday. (Thomas Cristofoletti/Ruom)

The Koh Kong Provincial Court on Monday imprisoned three activists from environmental NGO Mother Nature after a prosecutor charged them with threatening to cause damage during their ongoing campaign against a company accused of illegally dredging in a local estuary, according to rights group Licadho.

In Kongchit, provincial coordinator for Licadho, said prosecutor Bou Bunhang charged Sim Samnang, 29; Tri Sovichea, 26; and Sun Mala, 24, with threatening destruction, which carries a maximum prison sentence of two years.
Sun Mala, right, co-founder of environmental NGO Mother Nature, drives a boat toward a sand dredging barge operated by Direct Access in Koh Kong province’s Andoung Toek estuary on Thursday. (Thomas Cristofoletti/Ruom)

“The prosecutor handed the case to Investigating Judge Chhum Davy and the judge has now detained the three people and they were sent to the provincial prison at about 7 p.m.,” he said, adding that Licadho had assigned one of its lawyers to represent the three men.

Mr. Bunhang could not be reached last night.

Sam Sokunthea, the Licadho lawyer representing the activists, declined to comment on the charges for fear of affecting the case.

The activists were summoned for questioning by Botum Sakor district police on Friday, but all three refused to show up, saying they had not broken any laws.

Provincial police chief Sam Khitvean said Monday that the three were summoned after Direct Access—a company that was granted a license by the Mines and Energy Ministry to dredge sand in the Andoung Toek estuary—filed a complaint against them.

“The company requested that the three activists stop leading people to protest against sand dredging because it has disturbed the exploitation of the sand,” he said. “But they did not listen.”

Brigadier General Khitvean said the activists were arrested for failing to heed the court summons.

“The court summoned them for questioning, but they refused to stand at the court,” he said.

However, Sorn Chandara, another Mother Nature activist in Koh Kong, said the three were only summoned by police.

Mr. Chandara added that Mr. Sovichea and Mr. Mala—a co-founder of Mother Nature—were arrested Monday morning at a rented house in Botum Sakor.

“I saw about 40 police come with motorbikes and cars. Then they went inside the rental house and arrested our two activists,”

he said. “Police put handcuffs on the activists and pushed them into a Toyota pickup and drove away.”

Mr. Chandara said Mr. Samnang was arrested at a separate location, also in the morning.

Since April, Mother Nature activists have been working with

fishing communities to put a stop to sand dredging in the Andoung Toek estuary, which they blame for pollution, riverbank collapses and a dramatic exodus of the fish and crab populations locals rely on.

Activists and fishermen have been boarding Direct Access’ barges and ordering their crews to stop working, sometimes using fishing boats to tow the larger vessels out to sea.

Despite a 2009 ban on exporting river sand ordered by Prime Minister Hun Sen, Direct Access’ license states that the company is permitted to dredge in an area referred to as “Andong Teuk creek” for domestic supply or international export.

However, Mother Nature says that the company is dredging deeper, and in a larger area, than its license allows.

The Mines and Energy Ministry has not said where the sand is being exported to, but according to a representative of the

Singapore-based shipping firm Pacific Carriers Limited—which is chartering a ship that Direct Access has been loading sand onto—it is destined for Singapore.

Although Direct Access’ license is due to expire on Wednesday, Mines and Energy Ministry spokesman Dith Tina said last week that no decision had been made on whether it would be renewed.

Mr. Tina did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

Neak Sopheap, 46, a resident of Botum Sakor district, said locals would continue to work to stop Direct Access if the company’s license was renewed.

“We will continue to protest against the sand dredging even if the authorities arrest all the Mother Nature activists,” she said.

Officials Find Luxury Wood in Stung Treng City Pond

17 Aug
Source: Cambodiadally ,BY | AUGUST 17, 2015

Forestry officials confiscated 13 cubic meters of illegally logged timber in Stung Treng City on Saturday after discovering the wood hidden in a pond and the surrounding underbrush, an official said Sunday.

Sok Sida, chief of the Forestry Administration’s Stung Treng cantonment, said the 129 pieces of luxury and first-grade timber comprised of rough-hewn Beng, Thnong, Chres and Sokrom wood were found in Srah Russei commune.

He said that some of the 2-meter-long planks had been hidden just beneath the surface of the pond while the rest was stacked in the underbrush nearby, covered by a tarp and foliage.

Mr. Sida said his officials had linked the wood to a group of timber traders known to harvest protected tree species along the banks of the Sesan River to the north of Stung Treng City and transport it to furniture workshops in the city.

“We spent a week investigating this luxury wood before we confiscated it yesterday. When we measured it today, it was a total of 13 cubic meters,” he said, adding that the timber would be kept at the local Forestry Administration office while officials attempted to identify and locate its owners.

King signs law on NGOs

14 Aug
source: Phnom Penh Post ,by Pech Sotheary,Fri, 14 August 2015
The much-disputed Law on Associations and Non-governmental Organisations (LANGO) has passed its final, and almost entirely ceremonial hurdle, as King Norodom Sihamoni yesterday signed a Royal Proclamation passing the legislation into law.

The signing came a day after the law was approved by the Constitutional Council, which rejected a challenge by the opposition that the legislation breached the Kingdom’s charter.

According to government spokesman Phay Siphan, the law will now be forwarded to the Council of Ministers and the country’s ministries in order to be put into effect.

“After the King signed off on the law, it will take effect in 10 days in Phnom Penh and in 20 days in the provinces,” he said yesterday.

Critics say the law’s vague language, including a clause demanding political “neutrality”, will give the government the ability to shut down and prosecute organisations that criticise the government, and it has been the focus of fervent protests across the country.

Last month, opposition lawmakers boycotted the votes in both the National Assembly and Senate, while more than 50 NGOs signed a joint open letter to the King asking him to prevent the legislation’s passing.

The United Nations and exiting US Ambassador William Todd have also expressed deep concerns about the legislation, earning heavy criticism from the government in the process.

In a strongly worded statement yesterday, Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division deputy director Phil Robertson blasted the law’s passing, warning that it gives Prime Minister Hun Sen “an axe in hand” to go after organisations defending the rights of the Cambodian people.

“This law is one of the last building blocks Hun Sen needed to complete his system of authoritarian rule,” he said.

Robertson lambasted the international donor community for standing idly by and allowing the bill to pass.

“There is no upside to this, there is no doubt that this is a profoundly sad day for rights and democracy in Cambodia,” he said.

Meanwhile, senior technical supervisor at rights group Licadho Am Sam Ath vowed that civil society groups will closely monitor any potential excesses the legislation brings and document them to push for future amendments to the law.

“If it is put into effect, we will find the problems that the law causes to people’s freedom,” he said.

NGOs Want Cambodia to Provide Accommodations For Students During Exam

11 Aug
Source: RFA,2015-08-11
student higt school

High school students talk to a teacher in Sihanoukville, June 28, 2014. The Picture Desk

Civil groups have urged Cambodian authorities to provide places for students to stay during the upcoming national high school graduate exam and prevent hotels and guesthouses from increasing room rates in all cities and provinces.

The Affiliated Network for Social Accountability for East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA-EAP), Khmer Institute for National Development, Cambodian Youth Network and Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA) asked the Ministry of Education on Monday to set up temporary accommodations for students who travel to cities from rural areas to take the exam on Aug. 24-25.

The nongovernmental organizations are concerned that room rental fees could detrimentally impact poor students from the countryside, who must travel long distances to take the tests.

San Chey, an ANSA-EAP representative, said 70-80 percent of students from the provinces would travel to cities to sit for the exam.

Most of the students come from poor families and must pay for their own transportation, food and accommodations, he said.

“It would be better if authorities talked about this with the guesthouse and hotel owners, so that they work out an understanding with students and teachers during the examination,” he said.

Ros Salin, spokesman at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, said ministry officials and other authorities would work together to inform guesthouses and hotel owners not to increase room rates during the exam period.

He encouraged students to look for places to stay before the exam, so hotel owners cannot take advantage of them by raising rates at the last minute.

“Students from the provinces can share places or rooms,” he said. “If somebody has relatives in the city, he can ask to stay with them for three days. [Students] can ask friends of their families if they can stay with them as well.”

Nearly 88,500 students will take the high school diploma test at 149 examination centers throughout the country this month.

The education ministry has said it will not offer the test a second time for those who fail the first one.



Adhoc: Houses for Families Displaced by Dam Sub-standard

10 Aug
Source: Khmer Times by Chea Takihiro Monday, 10 August 2015

The new houses are for the 100 families displaced by the Sesan Krom II Dam. Photo: Adhoc


PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – New houses built for 100 families who were pushed off of their land by the construction of the Sesan Krom II Dam have been slammed as substandard by the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (Adhoc).
The Royal Group of Cambodia was contracted to build houses for those displaced by the project, but when villagers arrived, they found half-built structures lacking basic necessities.
Adhoc official Ho Samol, who is based in Stung Treng province, went to observe the construction at Kbal Romeas commune and found that most of the houses were damaged or poorly built.
The Sesan Krom II Dam project was criticized by NGOs and civil society groups who said it would affect the forests in the area and push out villagers living along the  Sesan River.
“The Sesan Krom II hydro-electric dam will generate more than 400 megawatts for the provinces around Stung Treng, and the rest of the electricity will also be sold to Vietnam and Laos
Dr. Kem Ley, a political commentator, said the dam was plagued from the start.
“What we lose are more than natural resources, but also the loss of culture and traditions of that ethnic group,” he said. “It was a big mistake to develop without thinking of conservation.”
The Royal Group of Cambodia did not respond to calls and messages from Khmer Times.
The Sesan Krom II Dam will cost $800 million and is a joint venture between Cambodia, China and Vietnam. Construction started in 2010 and is slated to finish in 2020 – five years behind schedule.

Prey Lang Campaign Kicks Off

9 Aug
Source: Khmer Times by Chea Vannak Sunday, 09 August 2015

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – As deforestation in Cambodia’s forests has grown in recent years, more and more citizens have come together to fight against it. Now, a group of 300 people are going to campaign for awareness about the destruction of Prey Lang, the largest evergreen forest in the country.
Prey Lang covers land in Kratie, Stung Treng, Kampong Thom, and Preah Vihear, and activists in the Prey Lang Forest Community group plan on running a five-day campaign against illegal logging from August 10 to 14 in all four provinces.
The campaign has over 300 participants already, and they hope to gather about 200 motorbikes from each province and drive to the core area of Prey Lang to visit the office of Seng Sokheng, the coordinator of the Prey Lang Forest Community.
The purpose of the campaign is to prevent illegal logging and land grabbing. The organizers also hope to collect evidence related to logging to add to a report they plan to file with the government.  They want the government to see evidence of illegal logging and take action against it.
The group also plans to include education about the advantages of forests in the campaign.
According to a statement released by the Prey Lang Forest Community, in the past 10 years Prey Lang has faced dramatic illegal logging and has been threatened by economic land concession development projects, mines, land grabbing by villagers and poor forest management.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has called on authorities to prevent the import and sale of illegally logged wood throughout the country.
Although authorities and expert officials have worked hard to prevent illegal logging, deforestation activities in Prey Lang have not decreased, according to the group.

Soldier was ‘trading timber’

3 Aug
Source: The Phnom Penh Post by Phak Seangly Mon, 3 August 2015
A Forestry Administration official poses for a photo with illegal timber in June after it was seized in Kampong Speu’s Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary.

A Forestry Administration official poses for a photo with illegal timber in June after it was seized in Kampong Speu’s Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary. PHOTO SUPPLIED

A vehicle transporting 18 cubic metres of illegally logged timber was stopped on Saturday night by the Wildlife Alliance’s Wildlife Rapid Response Team (WRRT) in Kampong Speu province and is believed to belong to a military officer currently involved in a prior lawsuit over contraband timber.

According to a police official, who asked to remain anonymous, the timber was taken from the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary, which is protected by royal decree, and has since been impounded at the local forest ranger station.

The official said no arrests were made at the time.

“[The] driver and a few assistants escaped since it was so dark,” the official said. “We have made a note for the environmental officers there.”

Chea Hean, director of the Natural Resources and Wildlife Preservation Organization, which investigates forestry crime in the sanctuary, claimed the timber belonged to Choeung Theng, a military officer based in the province.

“Choeung Theng is the middleman who buys and distributes the timber to other depots in the area,” Hean explained.

“No one intercepted it since they [all] know each other.”

The court is currently investigating a claim filed by WRRT and local officials, over a similar incident, involving Choeung Theng and five others, earlier this summer.

According to reports, on June 10 WRRT stopped a vehicle transporting over 750 planks of timber logged from protected areas.

At the time, the driver bolted, but before WRRT could leave the scene, they were surrounded by six military officials, led by Choeung Theng, who attempted to reclaim the stolen timber at gunpoint.

The charges include robbery and attempted murder.

Chea Hean, however, did not dispute that it is common for villagers to bring chainsaws into the protected forests for logging.

He said approximately 30 cubic metres of timber are destroyed daily, including sokrom, pchek, raing and marinh woods.

When called for comment, Choeung Theng said his phone signal was not good enough to give an interview and hung up.

Heng Kuon, director of the Kampong Speu provincial Environment Department, said: “The timber was bought from villagers who [are] still logging in secret in this rainy season.”

Kuon said officers are working to find out the true owner of the illegal lumber and until that is determined, the case will not be sent to court.


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