Two Mother Nature activists who were convicted of incitement to commit a felony and violation of privacy by the Koh Kong Provincial Court were released from prison yesterday after completing their prison terms.
The two environmental activists, Hun Vannak and Doem Kundy, had been detained in Prek Svay prison in Koh Kong province since September 13.
They were arrested after they photographed alleged sand dredging at a beach in Prek Khsach district. A complaint was filed against them by the company of tycoon Ly Yong Phat.
On January 26, presiding judge Keo Sokha sentenced the pair to one year each, with a seven-month suspended sentence and a fine of $250 each.
Kry Buntha, director of the prison, said Mr Vannak and Mr Kundy were released at about 11am yesterday after he received an order for their release from the court.
Outside the prison, the men were greeted by environmental activists, representatives from the United Nations, human rights officials, land activists and family members.
Mr Vannak said he was happy to regain his freedom and reiterated that he had not committed any wrongdoing when documenting the alleged sand dredging.
He added that he would be discussing his next steps with his lawyers to possibly file an appeal over the conviction to clear his name.
“The court accused me of violating privacy, and that means taking photographs of individuals in their private places without permission, but on September 12, we didn’t take photos of someone, we just took photos of the ship,” he said. “And even though we had exculpatory evidence and witnesses, the court still convicted us. We cannot accept that.”
Both activists added that their detentions had not deterred them from continuing their work to protect the environment now they have regained their freedom.
In Kongchit, Koh Kong provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, said Mr Vannak and Mr Kundy should not have been punished for doing their jobs to investigate, collect information and protect and preserve natural resources.
“Going forward, they now have a criminal record and a letter of condemnation against them from the Ministry of Justice that should not exist,” he said. “This may deter other activists from following in their footsteps and participating in environmental activism.”