Cambodia: Mother Nature activist arrested in Kandal province
August 8, 2017, 3:36 am

Today – Monday, 07 August 2017 – youth activist Hun Vannak, a member of the environmental NGO Mother Nature, was arrested at approximately 12.30pm in Kohkor Village, Roka Khpos Commune, Sa-ang District, Kandal Province. Kohkor village has recently borne witness to a series of community protests against fluvial sand dredging in the area, which may have led to riverbank collapse and the loss of homes.

Approximately 10 – 15 police officers arrested Mr. Vannak shortly after he left the house of a local villager in Kohkor village. The police were accompanied by 4-5 uniformed representatives of the Leng Ching sand dredging company and arrested Mr. Vannak. Mr. Vannak was accompanied by a local villager and was on his way to buy lunch when he was intercepted by police, close to the villager’s home.

According to witness reports, police pushed Mr. Vannak into a police vehicle without informing him of the reason for his arrest. He was taken directly to the police station in Ta Kmao for questioning. CCHR has received information that Mr. Vannak is being questioned in relation to allegedly illegally inciting the community to protest, and for allegedly illegally flying a drone. The exact nature of the alleged offenses is yet to be confirmed by the authorities.

Mr. Vannak arrived in Kohkor Village on the morning on 07 August to attend a meeting by the Sa-ang district authorities and attended by the Sa-ang District Governor, the Roka Khpos Commune Chief, the Kohkor Village Chief, local villagers, and representatives of the Leng Ching Company. Mr. Vannak attended and monitored the meeting at the invitation of local villagers who asked him to monitor. Mr. Vannak live streamed the meeting via Facebook Live.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the issues related to sand dredging in the area and to find a solution between the villagers and the sand dredging companies which are operating in the locality. The villagers have been demanding an end to sand dredging in their area, as well as compensation for lost and damaged property. Villagers report that they have been meeting on a near-daily basis to discuss the dredging and to plan their advocacy. These meetings have routinely been interrupted by (mostly district-level) authorities and police. In June 2017, another Mother Nature activist, Thun Ratha, faced questioning by local police due to his support for the local community in Sa-ang.

UPDATE: On 7 August 2017, the HRD was released after several hours of interrogation.

UPDATE: On 13 Feburary 2018, Mother Nature activists who were convicted of incitement to commit a felony and violation of privacy by the Koh Kong provincial court were released after completing their prison terms.