Four environmental activists were arrested on Wednesday and accused of plotting, or conspiracy, to commit a crime, according to an officer at an environmental organization.
San Mala, senior advocacy officer at the Cambodian Youth Network, said that the spokesman for the National Police, Chhay Kim Khoeun, told him and his colleagues on Thursday afternoon that four young activists were arrested.
Mala said that Ly Chandaravuth, Sun Ratha and Sith Chhivlimeng were arrested in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district on Wednesday while an environmental activist Yim Leanghy was arrested in Kandal province’s Koh Thom district the same day.
He said that all of them are environmental activists who work on environmental issues and are critical of the government. Their primary work involves producing short video clips about environmental issues and posting it on their Facebook page.
The three arrested in Phnom Penh “will be sent to Phnom Penh Municipal Court on accusations of plotting based on article 453 of the criminal code,” Mala said. If charged and found guilty they could face sentences of five to 10 years.
Neth Savoeun, National Police commissioner, declined to comment, referring questions to the spokesman, Kim Khoeun, who also declined to comment.
Daun Penh police chief Teang Chansar confirmed that the arrests occurred, though he declined to answer questions.
“Police officials are taking action on this case,” said Chansar.
Sim Kheang, Koh Thom district police chief, and Roeun Nara, deputy Kandal provincial police chief, declined to comment.
Chuon Sopanha, deputy prosecutor and spokesman of Kandal provincial Court said that the provincial court administration has not yet received the case of Yim Leanghy.
Sun Samnang, 21, brother of activist Sun Ratha said his sister is a good person who has done nothing wrong.
“I think that her arrest is an injustice,” Samnang said. “I want the authorities to release her because she just joined to protect the environment.”
Mala, the senior advocacy officer, urged the government to stop punishing those trying to improve Cambodia through peaceful advocacy.
“I request relevant institutions, especially the Environment Ministry, to stop its pressure and they should allow all environmental and forest activists to do their work based on the constitutional law and natural resource protection law,” said Mala.
Mala said in the past, all of them had been working to preserve Tamok Lake in Phnom Penh and stop sand dredging in Kandal province.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group Licadho, said such activism was critical to protecting the environment. He noted that when the US deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman met with Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this month, she requested the government to release imprisoned environmental activists and drop charges against them.
“They should be encouraged and they should not be arrested because of their activities to protect the environment,” said Sam Ath.
“I think that this is a message to threaten and pressure youths who have the intention to protect natural resources and the environment,” Sam Ath said.
Stressing that he does not know clearly the reasons for the arrest and that Licadho is monitoring the case, Sam Ath said that authorities must consider whether publicly criticizing or advocating on behalf of the environment is really a crime.
In September, three environmental activists from the group Mother Nature, Thon Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phuon Keoreaksmey, were arrested while planning a campaign video involving a one-person protest march to bring attention to a threatened Phnom Penh lake.
Last month, Ratha was sentenced to 20 months in prison for inciting serious social unrest, while Kunthea, Phuon Keoreaksmey and Chea Kuntin were sentenced to 18 months on the same charges. Mother Nature co-founder Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson was sentenced in absentia to 20 months.