The Kratie Provincial Court on Monday released four forestry activists — including internationally recognized environmentalist Ouch Leng — who were arrested on Friday for trespassing a company’s property.
According to a court statement, the four activists on Thursday rode motorbikes in the Prey Lang forest to investigate alleged illegal logging by the company, Think Biotech. They spent a night at a villager’s house next to the company land. The next morning, the company’s security guards detained the four and handed them over to Sambor district police, it said.
In addition to the four who were detained, two other activists were also on the trip but escaped the security guards, the statement said.
Leng was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2016 for his work documenting illegal logging and corruption.
He told CamboJA News that the four activists had not been charged by the court.
He said the team had observed logs being transported into Think Biotech’s compound from outside its concession.
“The company is afraid that my team and I know the illegal activities of the company,” Leng said.
Representatives for Think Biotech could not be reached for comment. Keo Socheat, prosecutor for the Kratie court, declined to comment on Monday.
Soeng Senkaruna, spokesman for human rights NGO Adhoc, said the three other activists released on Monday were members of the Prey Lang Community Network: Khem Soky, Srey Thei and Men Mat. Dozens of community members had protested for their release, he said.
Senkaruna said he was disappointed in the authorities’ actions to detain the activists.
“I think the government and the court should appreciate them, because they dare to protect the forests and natural resources,” he said. “The court should be not continue to investigate them.”
Heng Sros, a forestry activist in the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force, said Think Biotech and the court were trying to deter environmentalists from scrutinizing the activities of the company.
“We are disappointed and unhappy with what the authorities and the court did against those environmental and forestry activists,” Sros said. “The government should be encourage people who dare to protect the environment and the forests. We should join together to protect them.”