Cambodia: Authorities & private security of Think Biotech arrest Goldman Environmental Prize winner & three activists

Think Biotech Co., Ltd's private security guards arrested four environmental activists, including, Mr. Ouch Leng, head of the non-government organization Cambodian Human Rights Task Force. Mr Ouch was awarded the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize. The other three activists are Mr. Khem Soky, Mr. Srey Thei, both from the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) and Mr. Men Mat, who was physically assaulted by company workers while inside the company compound. The four were arrested on 13 March while they were patrolling the areas looking for collecting evidence and information about the company's activities related to illegal logging. The four were held inside the company compound before being sent to the police inspectorate at Sambor district, Kratie province. Now, the four are sent to the Kratie Provincial Court for further legal proceedings.

(Photo: Credit to RFI)

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21 March 2020

Cambodia: Amnesty International condemns harassment & intimidation of environmental human rights defenders & claims the acts undercut struggle against climate change

Author: Amnesty International

"Cambodia: Harassment of Forest Defenders Undermines Struggle Against Climate Change", 20 March 2020

The Cambodian authorities’ harassment and intimidation of environmental human rights defenders amounts to a wholesale assault against grassroots activism and Indigenous peoples’ rights and undercuts the global struggle against climate change, Amnesty International said … ahead of the International Day of Forests 2020.

…in Kratie Province, Goldman Environmental Prize winner Ouch Leng was arrested and detained along with Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) members Srey Thei and Khem Soky and forest investigator Man Mat. The four were initially detained, with Man Mat beaten, by staff of an agribusiness company operating in the area while investigating allegations of illegal logging within the Prey Lang forest… They reportedly remain under investigation as suspects for unspecified crimes.

Amnesty International is calling for the baseless investigation into the four forest activists to be dropped and for the Cambodian authorities to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into all credible allegations of arbitrary detention, torture and illegal logging by agribusiness companies operating in the area…

Ministry of Environment officials claimed … following the incident that PLCN is operating illegally because it has not registered under Cambodia’s widely criticised Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (LANGO)… Amnesty International reiterates its calls to repeal or substantially amend the LANGO without delay to ensure it is brought in line with international human rights law, and to guarantee a safe and enabling environment for environmental human rights defenders to conduct their work without fear of reprisals.

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21 March 2020

Cambodia: HRW condemns harassment & intimidation of four environmental defenders & calls on authorities to cease using abusive acts

Author: Human Rights Watch

"Cambodia: Environmental Activists Harassed", 20 March 2020

Cambodian authorities should end the politically motivated investigations of four environmental activists looking into illegal logging in Kratie province, Human Rights Watch said …, the International Day of Forests. The authorities should investigate a Taiwanese-Cambodian company whose employees allegedly detained the activists, including the prominent environmentalist Ouch Leng, and assaulted one of them…

“The Cambodian authorities should end their abusive investigation of four environmental activists who for years have confronted illegal logging activities at great personal risk,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should stop using politicized courts and repressive laws to silence activists and to protect corrupt officials and businesses.”

... Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Think Biotech …, seeking their response to the incident and any steps they may have taken to address the situation. The company has not responded.

..., the police arrived at the compound and took the four activists to the Sambor district police station, holding them overnight…, the Kratie provincial prosecutor questioned Ouch Leng, and the next day questioned the other three activists.

The provincial prosecutor ordered the four men released … without charges but indicated he would continue investigations into unspecified crimes they allegedly committed…

The prosecutor suggested that the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force’s legal status was in jeopardy and ordered Ouch Leng to submit paperwork to the Interior Ministry to clarify the organization’s directorship. Leng has headed CHRTF since 2013 and registered the organization with the Interior Ministry before 2015,…

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Article
19 March 2020

Cambodia: Global Witness calls on authorities to cease judicial harassment against four environmental defenders after they are freed

Author: Global Witness

"Global Witness Calls for End to Judicial Harassment of Prize Winning Cambodian Activist Ouch Leng and Environmental Defenders Protecting Cambodia's Climate-Critical Prey Lang Forest", 16 March 2020

Global Witness welcomes the release from Police custody today of Goldman Prize winning forest protection activist Ouch Leng and three other environmental defenders and calls on the Cambodian authorities to drop all investigations into their activities.

“The release of Ouch Leng, Khem Soky, Srey Thei and Men Mat is a huge relief. But the fact that they remain under investigation as suspects maintains the threat against them and other environmental defenders,” said Man-Kwun Chan, Campaign Leader, … at Global Witness.

“The overall message is that Cambodian authorities are more interested in persecuting Cambodian activists working to safeguard their country’s most precious natural heritage than protecting and supporting their vital work. All judicial proceedings against Ouch Leng and his colleagues must be ended unconditionally and without delay.”

…The harassment of Ouch Leng and the Prey Lang Community Network comes less than a month after hundreds of community members, monks and environmental activists were prevented by masked and armed Ministry of Environment rangers from carrying out an annual tree-blessing ceremony in Prey Lang…

Think Biotech and its associated company Angkor Plywood were recently the subject of an official investigation after the Ministry of Environment received reports of illegal logging from the offices of the EU and USAID in Cambodia …

“The detention and investigation of Ouch Leng and his colleagues raises the question of why the Cambodian government is defending the interests of a firm that has faced credible accusations of illegal logging and whose director has a long association with forest destruction in Cambodia,” said Man-Kwun Chan…

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Article
17 March 2020

Cambodia: Kratie Provincial Court releases four environmentalists after company accuses them of trespassing

Author: Soth Koemsoeun, The Phnom Penh Post

"Court releases forest activists accused of trespassing", 17 March 2020

The Kratie provincial court … released four forest activists after protesters outside the court demanded their release.

Activist Ouch Leng and three members of the Prey Lang forest community – Khem Sokhy, Srey Thei and Mein Math – were arrested … after Think Biotech (Cambodia) Co Ltd accused them of entering its premises without permission.

Heng Sros, also a forest activist, welcomed the decision.

“This is the right decision, but I also regret that they were detained for three days without any evidence in the first place…

Sros spoke … as he held a sign that read: “Loggers are allowed to walk free but those that protect the forest are arrested.” The sign showed images of the four activists released on Monday.

“The investigative judge and the Kratie provincial prosecutor decided to free the activists but the court has placed them under supervision,” Sros noted.

Neither Kratie provincial court spokesman Tiv Vuth Then nor provincial court deputy prosecutor Chea Sopheak could be reached for comment ...

Leng, a well-known activist and recipient of the Goldman Prize, is also the president of the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force…

Rights group Adhoc spokesman Soeng Sen Karuna said … that the court is now investigating the guard who used violence against the activist.

Neither Think Biotech director Lu Chu Chang nor company representative Lach Phanno could be reached for comment ...

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Article
16 March 2020

Cambodia: Company accuses four environmental activists of trespassing; Kratie Provincial Court's prosecutor continues questioning them

Author: Soth Koemsoeun, The Phnom Penh Post

"Activists alleged to have tresspassed says company", 15 March 2020

Activist Ouch Leng and three members of the Prey Lang forest community were arrested… after Think Biotech (Cambodia) Co Ltd accused them of entering its premises without permission.

Leng – who won the Goldman Prize for his activism and is the president of the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force – Khem Sokhy, Srey Thei and Mein Math are being questioned by the Kratie provincial court after Think Biotech filed a complaint against them.

Protesting in front of the court to demand the release of the activists on Sunday, Heng Sros, also a forest activist, said Leng and his companions were sued by Lach Phanno, a Think Biotech representative.

Sros said the deputy prosecutor has charged them with three offences under Articles 299 and 360 of the Criminal Code and Article 32 of the Law on Associations and NGOs (Lango). This is the first time that Lango has been used to charge Leng, according to Sros…

Kratie provincial deputy police chief Kong Sidorn told … that the four suspects were sent to court … for questioning.

“I received a complaint from the company. According to it, the suspects entered the company’s headquarters to take photos,” he said.

Neither Think Biotech director Lu Chu Chang nor company representative Chea Pov could be reached for comment ...

Following the activists’ arrest, NGOs Adhoc, Licadho, the Cambodian Youth Network (CYN) and the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC) released a joint statement to condemn the company’s actions…

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Article
15 March 2020

Cambodia: 24 CSOs endorse a statement condemning the arrests of the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize winner & 3 activists

Author: CSOs Joint Statement

"Joint Statement on the Detention of Mr. Ouch Leng, Head of Cambodian Human Rights Task Force, and Three Other Environmental Activists", 14 March 2020

The undersigned environmental activists, associations and non-government organizations … strongly condemn the company Think Biotech Co., Ltd for using private security guards in the detention without reason of four environmental activists, including, Mr. Ouch Leng, head of the non-government organization Cambodian Human Rights Task Force. Mr Ouch was awarded the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize. The other three activists are Mr. Khem Soky, Mr. Srey Thei, both from the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) and Mr. Men Mat, who was physically assaulted by company workers while inside the company compound…

 …, all four were detained by Think Biotech security guards and brought into the company at a site called ‘Dombouk Sor’, in Romoul village, Sambor district, Kratie province. They were questioned and were not allowed to leave or to have any contact with anyone...

 The detention of the four environmental activists through the use of Think Biotech security guards represents an abuse of power, that the detention of the four activists goes contrary to Cambodia’s code of criminal procedure, and that the company must be held responsible for the use of violence against Mr. Man Mat.

…, we call upon Sambor police to ensure the safety of the four activists and to release them without conditions. We also call for an investigation to be conducted on the irregularities behind the detention of the four activists by Think Biotech and to search for the two perpetrators … who reportedly assaulted Mr. Men Mat so that they are brought to justice and so that the rights of the victims are respected.

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