The Koh Kong Provincial Court decided to suspend a year and a half sentence handed down to three activists from environmental NGO Mother Nature who have been in prison since last August – longer than the legal limit for pre-trial detention. The three men will have to jointly pay $25,000 to a Vietnamese-owned sand dredging company and $500 each to the state.
Presiding Judge Min Makara convicted Try Sovikea, San Mala and Sim Samnang of instigation and threatening to cause destruction, defacement, or damage under article 424 and 28 of the Penal Code.
But with 10 months and 15 days already served, the men will be released tonight after the court suspended the last half of their sentence.
Mr. Sovikea’s mother, Sam Samnang, said she was overjoyed that her son and the other activists would be released but concerned about the compensation.
“We do not have the money. I hope the court can re-consider it. Drop the compensation. We are too poor to afford it. We all still believe that they are not guilty,” she said.
Judge Makara could not be reached for comment yesterday.
About 80 supporters of the activists gathered outside of the court this morning to support them and to call for their release without any conditions.
The men were arrested while protesting against Vietnamese-owned sand dredging company Direct Access, which they say is operating illegally in the province. Mother Nature and other local NGOs believe the company is dredging without a license and without having done an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The three activists were arrested after boarding Direct Access ships in July and later sued by the company for $100,000 in compensation.
Provincial Licadho coordinator In Kongchit said the three Mother Nature activists work in non-governmental organizations to help the community and save the environment without seeking any personal benefit. Instead, they should be rewarded, he added.
“This represents a mental breakdown for environmental activists in Cambodia. They sacrificed themselves but were punished. If we looked into it, the company has had no problems despite the fact that their license expired on August 19, 2015,” he said.