Cambodia: ecologists charged with insulting king

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court in Cambodia charged four environmental activists with conspiracy and insulting the king, a prosecutor confirmed June 21, after three activists were arrested for documenting raw sewage discharge into the Tonlé Sap River. Three of the charged conservationists were sent to pre-trial detention, while the fourth, Mother Nature Cambodia (MNC) co-founder Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, was charged in absentia and has not been arrested. The four activists face a sentence of five to 10 years for the conspiracy charge. The charge for insulting the king carries an additional sentence of one to five years.

MNC is an environmental group whose members seek to build an "unstoppable movement" to halt what they call the systematic destruction of Cambodia's natural heritage. The MNC website states: "Cambodia has been sliding into a fully-fledged dictatorship for years. Those willing to speak up and tell the truth suffer relentless harassment and oppression of their freedoms. Despite the risks, we continue to speak out against the lies and oppression."

Last year three MNC activists were sentenced to 20 months in prison after being convicted of "incitement to create social chaos." At that time, UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor stated that she was "concerned about the pattern of increasing prosecution of human rights defenders in Cambodia..." Am Sam Ath, deputy director of monitoring at the Cambodian League for the Promotion & Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), noted that the increasing harshness of charges against MNC activists has deterred other young people from joining the environmental protection movement.

From Jurist, June 21. Used with permission.

Cambodia teen convicted over social media posts

The US and human rights groups on Nov. 1 condemned the conviction of a teenage boy in Cambodia over social media messages insulting the ruling party.

Sovann Chhay, who is 16 and on the autism spectrum, was arrested after making the posts on Facebook and Telegram. He was charged with incitement and insulting public officials. These charges could carry up to two years in prison. He is the son of an imprisoned member of the political opposition. UN human rights experts called for his release in September, after the boy had already been held in pretrial detention for more than two months.

On Nov. 1, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court handed down a sentence of eight months, of which Chhay will serve four and half months in prison with the rest of the sentence suspended. The US ambassador to Cambodia, Patrick Murphy, criticized the sentence. Calling the charges "politically motivated," he tweeted: "How does jailing the teenage son of a opposition figure demonstrate respect for human rights?"

Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement to Reuters: "The conviction against 16-year-old, autistic Sovann Chhay is outrageous and unacceptable on so many levels and signifies a new low in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s witch hunt against his political opponents."

The court also held that Chhay will be placed on probation for two years following his release. (Jurist)