Cambodia jails two environment activists for filming sand export activity

Today Online 26 Jan 18;

PHNOM PENH - A Cambodian court on Friday sentenced two environment activists to a year in jail, with a suspension of seven months each, after they were convicted of filming suspected illegal sand export activity.

The court in southewestern Koh Kong province sentenced Dem Kundy, 21, and Hun Vannak, 35, members of the conservation group Mother Nature, their defense lawyer, Sam Chamroeun, said. Each was also fined $250.

"They are innocent all along," he told Reuters of the two activists, whom rights group Amnesty International considers prisoners of conscience.

Dem Kundy and Hun Vannak were arrested on September 12 last year and convicted of violation of privacy and incitement to commit a felony when they filmed vessels suspected of illegally carrying sand for export.

Cambodia banned all sand exports last year, officially ending the sale of sand to the wealthy city state of Singapore which has for years used it to reclaim land along its coasts.

Skeptical about whether the ban was being properly enforced, Mother Nature and other groups pressed the government to stop the trade, saying the digging and dredging of sand has had a serious impact on coastal ecosystems and surrounding land.

The sentences came a day after their trial on Thursday.

But domestic rights group Licadho said there was insufficient evidence to convict.

"It's shocking that the two Mother Nature youths were convicted by the Koh Kong court for only trying to protect and preserve natural resources for the current and future generations in Cambodia," said Naly Pilorge, its director.

Cambodia expelled Spanish national and co-founder of Mother Nature, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, in February 2015. REUTERS

‘Lack of proof’ in Mother Nature activists’ hearing
Phak Seangly Phnom Penh Post 26 Jan 18;

Two activists from the conservation group Mother Nature were tried yesterday in Koh Kong for photographing a vessel at sea, with their lawyer asking the court to dismiss the charges due to a lack of evidence that they had committed any crime.

In September, activists Hun Vannak, 35, and Dem Kundy, 21, were charged with “incitement to commit a felony” and making unauthorised recordings of a person in “a private place”, for filming a suspected sand-bearing ship a kilometre away from a boat of their own in the open ocean.

Yesterday’s trial lasted around three and a half hours, and a verdict is expected today, a lightning-quick turnaround for Cambodia’s notoriously sluggish courts.

Defence lawyer Sam Chamroeun yesterday said the judge should throw out the case, as the witness accounts were weak and the prosecution lacked concrete evidence.

“Both I and [the defendants] suggested that the judge drop the charges because they are not guilty,” Chamroeun said in an interview after the trial.

“We hope [the decision] will be a positive verdict for our clients.”

Read more: How Mother Nature duo followed their principles into activism — and a trial

Chamroeun also took aim at LYP Group’s Chief of Staff Chan Nakry, who brought the initial complaint against the Mother Nature duo. Chamroeun said he was not a victim, was absent from the trial, and had no right to bring the case because there was no letter from the company confirming Nakry as their representative.

Reached yesterday, Nakry said he was too busy to attend the proceedings and referred questions to his lawyer, Chun Socheat. Socheat would only say that the location in the ocean where the two suspects were filming “belonged to the company”.

According to Phal Chamroeun, a volunteer trial monitor with rights group Adhoc, during the trial Socheat claimed the pair took photos, posted them to Facebook, and “incited” society by accusing the company of foul play. While Mother Nature activists have been prolific in sharing footage on social media, Vannak and Kundy were arrested before uploading the footage in question.

If found guilty, the pair could face up to two years for the “incitement” charge, and as much as an additional year for making unauthorised recordings.

Mother Nature has long campaigned against sand dredging in Koh Kong, and the industry has become a contentious issue in Cambodia – and not just for its environmental impacts.

In 2016, data revealed the amount of sand the Kingdom reported exporting to Singapore was a tiny fraction of what Singapore said it received, inviting speculation that corruption was the cause for the missing sand. Other data showed similar gaps in reported exports to India and Taiwan.

The Ministry of Mines and Energy last year “completely halted the export of all kinds of construction sand and mud sand from Koh Kong province to foreign countries”. Silica sand, which was suspected to be the type of sand on the ship filmed by the activists, was later said to be exempt from the foreign export ban.

Mother Nature co-founder Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, who was expelled from the country in 2015, yesterday described the trial as a “joke”, and said he hoped the “nightmare that Vannak and Kundy are having will end soon”.

Dem Kundy’s mother, Duong Saktheary, said she was “suffering” through her son’s ordeal. “I would have accepted it if my son was guilty of doing something wrong, but he was just helping to protect the forest and the environment for everyone,” she said.

Adhoc’s Phal Chamroeun agreed with the pair’s defence lawyer that there was insufficient evidence to convict them.

“If the judge follows the procedures and thoroughly considers the case, we do hope that they will be released,” he said.

Hour In, a legal adviser from the rights group Licadho, said the complaint filed to the police was very short, simply accusing them of taking photos of the company’s vessel without permission. However, he said, when the case reached the court, the additional “incitement” charge was tacked on.

Simon Walker, country representative of the UN’s Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the body was monitoring the trial due to “the importance of consistency and fairness in trials, particularly in relation to criminal cases, and the need to apply the same evidentiary standards of proof”.



Environment activists jailed for filming sand export activities
The Star 29 Jan 18;

Sand dredging and exporting is serious business in Cambodia, and most of it has gone to enlarge Singapore.

But Cambodia had banned all sand exports as dredging has had a serious impact on coastal ecosystems and surrounding land said the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

However, when two environment activists filmed illegal suspected illegal sand exporting activities, they were recently sentenced to a year in jail.

The court in south-western Koh Kong province sentenced Dem Kundy, 21, and Hun Vannak, 35, members of the conservation group Mother Nature, their defence lawyer, Sam Chamroeun, said.

“They are innocent all along,” he told Reuters of the two activists, whom rights group Amnesty International considers prisoners of conscience.

Dem Kundy and Hun Vannak were arrested on September 12 last year and convicted of “violation of privacy” when they filmed vessels suspected of illegally carrying sand for export.

Cambodia banned all sand exports last July, officially ending the sale of this commodity to the wealthy city state of Singapore which has for years used it to reclaim land along its coasts.

Sceptical about whether the ban was being properly enforced, Mother Nature and other groups pressed the government to stop the trade, saying the digging and dredging of sand has had a serious impact on coastal ecosystems and surrounding land.

According to Mother Nature, the Cambodian government falsely claims that Koh Kong’s coastal estuaries naturally carry “too much sand”, and as such need dredging and deepening so that they can be “more navigable for local boats”, and to reduce riverbank erosion and floods in the area.

However, they say local fishing communities’ livelihoods have been ravaged by the sand mining.

A report in Mongabay recalled: “Now when we go fishing we don’t even catch one kilo. Before there was a lot more,” Ken Yut Theary, a woman living in Koh Sralav village on the banks of the Koh Kong estuary.

“Due to the fishery collapse a lot of the girls in the village have no choice but to go and work in factories in the special economic zone,” she said, referring to the new factory development between Koh Kong city and the Thai border.

Domestic rights group Licadho said there was insufficient evidence to convict the two journalists.

“It’s shocking that the two Mother Nature youths were convicted by the court for only trying to protect and preserve natural resources for the current and future generations in Cambodia,” its director, Naly Pilorge, told Reuters.

Cambodia expelled Spanish national and co-founder of Mother Nature, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, in February 2015.

“This NGO caused all kinds of trouble,” Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power for over 30 years, was quoted as saying in The Khmer Times. He said Mother Nature had long undermined his plans to improve electricity supplies in Cambodia, where daily blackouts are common, via hydroelectric and nuclear power projects.

Before the “permanent ban” in July 2017, there had been a “temporary ban” in November 2016 yet groups had complained that sand was still being exported.

Singapore was Cambodia’s top market for sand until 2017 when the temporary ban came into force, and had exported some 16 million tonnes of it since 2007.

Yet, UN trade data released last year showed that Singapore had imported far more sand (72 million tonnes of sand, worth more than US$740 million (RM2.88bil) from Cambodia since 2007.

The Phnom Penh Post also reported in Jan 2017 that Cambodia had exported more than 108,000 tonnes of sand between 2013 and 2015, according to Indian customs data, contradicting Cambodian customs data that show no sand being sent there at all.

Mother Nature claims that tax evasion may be involved as official government documents show that the vast majority of the sand exported was “magically gone” from Cambodian government data on exports but still appeared on import data in Singapore, India and the UN.

Al Jazeera added that this means not only are local Cambodians suffering from the ecological impact of extensive sand mining, the country may not be getting the full benefits of tax collection on sand exports. – Agencies

No comments:

Post a Comment