Despite the intimidation of which the activists are victims, the vocations of environmentalists flourish in this country nibbled away by deforestation and the concreting of the land.
It was a 30-hectare lake, which the waters of the Tonlé Sap gorged in the rainy season. It is now a construction site that stretches as far as the eye can see, where several hundred trucks follow each other, filling their skips to the brim with ocher earth to dump it at the end of the site. Located on the northwestern outskirts of Phnom Penh, Lake Tamouk, one of the last remaining in the Cambodian capital, was promised urban development by a succession of decrees, which granted the dried up portions to ministries authorized to resell them, as well as to “okhnas”, the Khmer oligarchs, close to power.
For calling for its protection, three young environmentalists from the Mother Nature movement were arrested on September 3, 2020: one of the activists was to walk, dressed all in white, to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s residence at 11 a.m. morning, and ask for an audience, while her friend was filming her. The lake, according to ecologists, acts as a flood regulator. At 8 a.m., men in civilian clothes rushed at the two young women, barely 20 years old, when they had just left their home, while another team appeared in the room which serves as Thun’s office. Ratha – who, at 29, is one of the “veterans” of the team – on the pretext that he operated an “illegal video studio”. Mother Nature had dissolved itself as a non-governmental organization in 2017 due to repression, hence its transformation into a “movement”.
The three environmentalists were sentenced for
to disturbing public order to twenty months in prison. A few months later, three other Mother Nature activists, picked up on the banks of the Mekong while they were taking water samples, joined them in the jails of Phnom Penh.
They were released from prison a little earlier than expected, in November 2021, after an amnesty which allowed the release of around 20 opposition members and human rights activists arrested since 2017, in the aim to neutralize any political opposition. This fourteen-month baptism of fire was no less a severe ordeal.
says Phun Keorasmey, one of the two young girls arrested. She had joined Mother Nature six months earlier. Li Chandiravuth, a law student, was helping the movement with legal issues, when the arrest of the first three prompted him to take over. Their commitment earned them a collective award from the Irish NGO Front Line Defenders in 2021.
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