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The environment activists in Cambodia risk their freedom

The environment activists in Cambodia risk their freedom

Mother Nature is a group of young activists who work to protect Cambodia’s environment. However, the group has been increasingly targeted and some have even been jailed for their activism.

Long Kunthea, Thon Ratha, and Long Kunthea are young environmental activists who care deeply about Mother Nature. Both spent more than a full year in prison in terrible conditions for daring take on their government.

Ratha, now a well-known activist, was a student who worked at a supermarket to make ends met when he attended a workshop at the university in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital. It would change his entire life.

Alejandro Gonzalez Davidson was the Spanish cofounder of Mother Nature. He led the event. Gonzalez-Davidson is fluent in Cambodian Khmer and spoke passionately about a planned hydropower plant in the Cardamom Mountains to the west of the country. He also discussed the potential destruction it would cause to the local environment.

Ratha was inspired and joined the group as an activist. Soon he began to investigate Mother Nature. Sand mining, Illegal wildlife parts traffickingThe effects of mass construction on the coast city of Sihanoukville

Long Kunthea, 24 years old, was inspired to join the group after watching one of Ratha’s videos in 2017. Prior to that, she was not interested in politics or the environment. She says, “I was afraid like ordinary Cambodians.” “I wouldn’t dare to click on political articles.”

Ratha and the other activists present their findings while being covered in sand. The entertaining, but powerful video captured Kunthea’s attention. Kunthea wasn’t alone. The video has been viewed more than 4.5 million times and shared more than 150,000 times on Facebook.

Kunthea said, “I felt like heroes.”

Prime Minister Hun Sin’s government has been accused of profiting off the plundering country’s natural resource – a charge he denies. Amnesty International says that Cambodia has experienced 64% reduction in its tree cover since 2011.

Other conservation and rights organizations point out that the country also lost approximately half its wetlands in 15 years. In Phnom Penh, alone, 15 of the 25 lakes were filled in during a construction boom.

Hun Sen has attributed deforestation to everything Increasing populationFor people living in rural areas Trees can be cut to build houses. He has defended the filling of lakes, saying it is necessary for national growth. This suggests that he could be subject to “repetitive” criticism. Inflamed by jealousy

Mother Nature was established in 2013 to assist local communities in mobilizing against the Cardamom Mountains’ planned hydropower project. After years of protests by the group, the project was ultimately scrapped in 2017.

Its young activists, many of whom are in their late teens and early 20s, have investigated everything from sand dug to illegal logging and pollution.

The group’s popularity grew after they started sharing their findings in humorous and informative videos to their Facebook page. They now have 432,000 followers.

However, their criticisms have come at a cost.

Phay Siphan, spokesperson for the Government, said that it supports environmental activism. However, Mother Nature activists may have ulterior motives.

“The motivations of those kids are completely different from the tasks of environmentalists. He said that they are not related to the environmental issue, but something else.

They have been tough on the group as a result.

Kunthea was set to walk to Hun Su’s central Phnom Penh property in protest at the construction of one of the city’s largest lake.

Phuon, Phuon Keorasmey a Mother Nature activist, was going on camera to document the one-woman march. They were taken to police cars shortly after their march began.

Kunthea recalls, “I was alone, but there were four to five officials who questioned me and yelled at us.” “They asked me if my march was an attempt to commit terrorism. I was speechless… How could I commit terrorism?

The two young activists were brought to court and charged incitement to cause social unrest or a felony. Ratha was quickly arrested and charged the same offense.

All three were placed in pretrial detention. They could face up to two year imprisonment.

Kunthea and Keorasmey shared a cell with up 150 women.

Keorasmey (20 years old) says she tried to keep herself busy reading Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi books, but prison’s harsh realities made it difficult. As inmates jostled to get space, fights would often break out. A woman in another cell committed suicide.

Kunthea believes they were held captive by the government to send a signal.

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“These are threats, intimidation, not just against me and our family but also against other young people who dare stand up for their natural resources.”

Kunthea Ratha, Keorasmey and Ratha were convicted and sentenced to lengthy jail terms. They were then charged with plotting, which can carry a sentence of up to 10 years.

Three other Mother Nature members were also arrested and charged in June with plotting and lee majeste. This law, which carries a severe punishment for insulting monarchy and is frequently used by the government against critics, has been used regularly by the government since then. It is not known what the activists said to insult the monarchy.

All six were released by Appeal Court in November. Kunthea Ratha and Keorasmey were freed for the first-time in more than a decade.

But this freedom is fragile. They must report to the police each month as they are still on bail for the remaining plotting charges. If the investigating judge decides to take the case to trial, they could be rearrested.

Phil Robertson is the Asia director of Human Rights Watch. He said that Hun Sen’s “cronies” didn’t count on “the anger among the youth about environmental degradation, and how Mother Nature, and other activists, have tapped into this generation’s demands to take action by exposing what was actually going on.”

“Hun Sen is using the time-tested tactic ‘killing chickens to scare the monkeys’ to go after leading activists in an intimidating way that intimidates anyone who might think about standing up to protect their rights,” he said.

Gonzalez-Davidson was Mother Nature’s co-founder seven years ago. He was expelled form Cambodia and has since been charged in connection with plotting, lese majeste and other charges. Gonzalez-Davidson claims that the group will continue to operate in the country, although without any official staff.

Despite the dangers, Kunthea and Ratha have all pledged to continue their work, although they will be sharing investigations on their personal Facebook pages. Ratha last month uploaded His first investigation after being released.

Ratha said, “Life prison was mental torture for us.” “But it made our mental strength stronger and I can overcome other large obstacles.”

He added that the charges were “showy and ridiculous.” “It’s impossible for us to create chaos in society and overthrow the government.”

Keorasmey said that leaving activism now would send a wrong message to budding activists from Cambodia.

She says, “We are their model.” “If we quit, who will dare do it?”

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