Prosecutors play videos of environmental activists at Cambodian trial

The video clips showed them criticizing the government’s handling of the environment and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prosecutors play videos of environmental activists at Cambodian trial

Prosecutors on Monday played video and audio depicting environmental activists criticizing the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and talking about their efforts to preserve Cambodia’s natural resources.

The trial of 10 activists charged in a case that covers several instances of activism resumed at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, with representatives from the European Union, the United Nations and civil society organizations in attendance.

Seven of the activists are from environmental group Mother Nature. They are facing charges that they insulted Cambodia’s king and plotted to overthrow the government.

Monday’s proceedings included the screening of videos showing Mother Nature founder Alexander Gonzalez-Davidson speaking to reporters about “environmental destruction” in Cambodia and a presentation that he gave in 2019 to Cambodians living in California.

Prosecutors also quoted a Radio Free Asia call-in show from 2021 that featured Gonzalez-Davidson and Transparency International Cambodia Executive Director Pech Pisey saying that then-Prime Minister Hun Sen had failed to provide assistance to people in Cambodia who were quarantined because of the pandemic.

Gonzalez-Davidson, Pech Pisey and three other activists are not attending the trial and are being tried in absentia. Gonzalez-Davidson, who is from Spain, was deported from Cambodia in 2015.

No plans for violence

The other five activists present for the trial – Long Kunthea, Yim Leang Hy, Thon Ratha, Phoun Keo Raksmey and Ly Chandaravuth – gave roses to police and security guards at the courthouse on Monday.

At a hearing earlier this month, the five activists wore white clothes to protest what they called an unfair Cambodian justice system, and also burned incense in front of the court and later meditated under a heavy rain.

After the hearing, Ly Chandaravuth told reporters that the videos only showed Gonzalez-Davidson’s personal views on the Cambodian leadership and didn’t cause any violence.

“There was no element about committing violence or planning to commit violence against any institution or any act that undermines the integrity of Cambodian territory,” he said. 

Gonzalez-Davidson told RFA that his comments in the videos didn’t contain any evidence of a conspiracy.

“They have no victims, no witnesses, no crimes,” he said. “They only have my interviews with journalists as evidence in their hands.”

All of the comments presented in the video and audio clips should be protected under freedom of expression, said Adhoc human rights officer Yi Sok San, who attended Monday’s hearing.

Presiding Judge Ouk Reth Kunthea said the trial would resume on June 24.

Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.