By: Pav Suy
PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The protest for the release of three activists from the environmental NGO Mother Nature entered its sixth day yesterday, with another rally in front of Koh Kong provincial court – where some members of the youthful NGO have been camping out.
Mother Nature activist Sorn Chandara said about 50 people continue to protest in front of the court. “They have joined the protest because they support the environment,” he said.
The three activists – Try Sovikea, 23, Sun Mala, 23, and Sim Samnang, 28 – were detained on August 19. They had earlier refused to comply with a police summons calling on them to respond to questions about their role in protesting against sand-dredging in the province’s Andoung Teuk commune.
Mother Nature activists and residents of the commune say sand-dredging is destroying the local ecosystem, and that the two companies involved in it – Direct Access and Rainbow International – are violating the dredging licenses they received from the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
The dispute began escalating on July 24, after Mother Nature issued a press release saying sand-dredging activities had destroyed the livelihoods of fishing communities and devastated the local ecosystem. It also claimed that the dredging had begun before proper social and environmental impact assessments had been conducted.
Company representatives, however, have dismissed these allegations as false, and have accused members of the NGO of threatening their staff and property. Activists shouted racial slurs and expletives at the mostly Vietnamese staff during protests against dredging, company executives have said.
The August 17 summons followed allegations that Mother Nature activists had threatened to burn sand-dredging vessels – allegations activists from the NGO have denied.
The companies and the Ministry of Mines and Energy have said there have been no violations of the licenses granted to the companies.
Nay Vanda, deputy head of human rights monitoring and legal aid with rights group Adhoc, has slammed the arrest of the activists as a violation of the right to freedom of expression.
“The arrest of the three environmental activists represents an outright violation of human rights. What they have been doing is just expressing their concern about environmental issues caused by the sand-dredging operation by the Vietnamese company. It is completely for the national interest,” he said.
Koh Kong provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, In Kong Chit, agreed. “The arrest is aimed to deter any more protest against the sand-dredging. It violates their rights to express their concerns about the environment.”