The Cambodia-based environmental group Mother Nature was formally shut down on Friday at the request of its director, Buddhist monk Prum Thomacheat, who said that he and other members were being threatened by government authorities over their activism.
The group has now had its name removed from an Interior Ministry registry, group founder Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson told RFA’s Khmer Service on Sept. 15.
Prum Thomacheat and another monk who served as the group's secretary “have been subject to systematic threats for the past three years, from October 2014 until the present day,” Gonzalez-Davidson said, speaking from Spain where he has lived since being expelled from Cambodia in 2015.
Gonzalez-Davidson had asked the two monks, both Cambodian citizens, to serve in these roles "as the Ministry of Interior wouldn't allow me [as a foreigner] to establish an organization on my own or stand as that organization's director," he said.
“Since then, they have faced charges and were almost sent to jail once. Therefore, the two venerable monks have decided to dissolve the organization so that they will not be persecuted or face threats of being jailed,” he said.
Registered with Cambodian authorities in 2013, Mother Nature has worked over the years to protect Cambodia’s environment, exposing irregularities in Cambodia’s trade in dredged sand with foreign countries and helping villagers organize to protect their land.
Several of the group's members have been harassed and jailed over the years.
On Sept. 13, a Koh Kong provincial court detained Mother Nature activists Dem Kundy and Hun Vannak on charges of inciting others to “commit crimes” and violations of privacy. The pair were taken into custody while taking photos of dredging operations along the Cambodian coast carried out by a firm linked to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
And in July 2016, activists Try Sovikea, 28, San Mala, 26, and Sim Somnang, 31, were sentenced to 18 months in jail for threatening to destroy a barge belonging to the sand-dredging company Direct Access the year before.
They were released when a judge suspended the last eight months of their sentences, and they subsequently filed an appeal against a $25,000 fine they were ordered to pay.
Though Mother Nature has disbanded as an organization, the group’s activists will now carry out operations on an independent and voluntary basis, Gonzalez-Davidson said.
“We have evolved into a movement,” Gonzalez-Davison said. “And so the removal of our name from the Interior Ministry’s registry will not affect our activities at all.”
“We will continue to carry out our activities as usual,” he said.
Reported by Zakaria Tin and Neang Ieng for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.