Mother Nature Sentence Upheld as Activists Mull Return

The Court of Appeal on Wednesday upheld a $25,000 fine for three environmental activists who fled the country after being convicted of threatening to destroy a sand dredging barge in Koh Kong province in 2015. They are now debating returning home, however, after the court also rejected an appeal by prosecutors to hand them additional jail time.

The prosecution’s case rested entirely on video footage showing the Mother Nature activists at protests, saying it proved their intent to damage the property of Direct Access, the company that owned the barge.

Activists from environmental NGO Mother Nature protest on Phnom Penh’s Riverside on Wednesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Sim Samnang, Try Sovikea and San Mala were convicted in July. The Koh Kong Provincial Court ordered a $25,000 fine, but suspended the eight months that remained of their 18-month prison sentence due to their detention while awaiting trial.

Prosecutors wanted the trio to serve their remaining prison sentences, while the activists had submitted their own appeal seeking to have all charges dropped.

Presiding Judge Sin Visal shot down both appeals on Wednesday in Phnom Penh.

“Based on the report of investigating police and answers of the plaintiff, the defendants really instigated incitement,” Judge Visal said.

A court spokesman said the judge saw no grounds for modifying the men’s prison sentences.

The activists fled the country last month, saying they feared the case would be used as a political tool to silence their activism protesting ecologically destructive sand dredging in Cambodia.

Reached over Facebook, Mr. Mala said the verdict did not provide “100 percent justice,” but was a step in the right direction.

“It is a good sign to continue our work as environmental activists and rescue the natural resources they are destroying,” he said, adding that he hoped to return soon from an unspecified location.

Exiled Mother Nature co-founder Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, however, said the NGO activists remained in danger, since there was little hope they could afford the fine.

“I understand that unpaid fines and compensation can result, at the jurisdiction of the judges, in jail time,” he said, adding that the group was discussing whether to appeal to the Supreme Court.

In a related protest on Wednesday morning, Daun Penh security guards confiscated the signs of 10 Mother Nature activists demonstrating over sand dredging and the court appeal on Phnom Penh’s Riverside, saying the group lacked a proper permit.

“It violated our rights because we were not yelling or affecting public order,” Mother Nature co-founder Mot Kimry said. “We were just standing to show our support.”

(Additional reporting by Ben Paviour)

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