Three activists lose final court appeal

Source: Khmer Times 

The three activists outside the Koh Kong provincial prison last year. Licadho

The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the convictions of three former Mother Nature activists who threatened to destroy equipment belonging to sand-dredging firm Direct Access.

In June 2016, Koh Kong provincial court sentenced Sun Mala, Try Sovikea and Sim Somnang to 18 months jail, eight of which were suspended. They were also ordered to pay about $25,000 in compensation to the Vietnamese company operating in the province.

The three were arrested by provincial authorities on August 17, 2015, after they led a protest and demanded that Direct Access stop dredging sand in Botum Sakor district’s Andoung Toek commune.

The three activists were arrested after boarding Direct Access ships in July.

After the confrontation, CEO of Direct Access, Khem Sameth said his company was working legally, noting that it had been granted a one-year license from the Mining Ministry to dredge sand in an estuary in the province’s Andoung Toek commune.

“Activists from environmental NGO Mother Nature caused more than $100,000 in damages to a company that was legally dredging for sand in Koh Kong province,” Mr Sameth claimed after the incident. “They disturbed my business and threatened to burn my boats.”

The three activists had appealed their conviction to the Appeal Court, which upheld it in early 2017.

Describing the Supreme Court verdict as unjust, Mr Mala said yesterday that the three are seeking legal advice over filing an appeal through international mechanisms. He added that they are unable to pay the compensation to Direct Access.

“It is funny that we have to pay compensation to the company which we have said in the past has committed irregularities leading to millions in losses,” Mr Mala said. “We do not see any punishment from or investigation by the court or the government against those companies, and instead, the court punishes us – activists who defend natural resources.”

“For this decision, I think there is no justice at all,” he added.

After the verdict, the three activists also issued a joint statement expressing dissatisfaction with the ruling, saying that the litigation was unfair and aimed at disputing the work of Mother Nature, an environmental group acting in the public interest to demand transparency and accountability from the government in regards to the extraction of natural resources.

Supreme Court spokesman Ouk Kimsith said the court decided to uphold the convictions and that the defendants held the right to express dissatisfaction.

“The court ordered them to pay 100 million riel to the company and they must comply,” he said. “If they don’t pay, legal action will be taken. I don’t want to comment more.”

Representatives of Direct Access could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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