Cambodia on Monday deported a Spanish environmentalist who had led a campaign against a controversial dam project, rejecting appeals from opposition politicians and NGOs and putting the activist on a black list that may prevent his return to the country.
Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, director of the NGO Mother Nature Cambodia, was put on a plane to Thailand Monday night, three days after his visa had expired, said Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak.
“Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson was given a notice for deportation from Cambodia. We ousted him from Cambodia,” Khieu Sopheak told RFA's Khmer Service.
“At around 9:00 p.m., he was deported from the international airport, and was going to Bangkok,” the spokesman added.
The Khmer-speaking Gonzalez-Davidson had long campaigned against the planned Chhay Areng hydropower dam in Koh Kong province. The 108-megawatt dam is backed by ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) lawmaker Lao Meng Khin and his wife, who have evicted thousands of families from land around the country.
Gonzalez-Davidson’s supporters in the Cambodia NGO community say the dam would force more than 300 ethnic minority families off of their ancestral land and would destroy the habitat of endangered animals.
They said the government wanted Gonzalez-Davidson expelled to prevent him from organizing any further opposition to the U.S. $400 million dam project, which is to be built by China’s Sinohydro Corporation.
Abuse of NGO status
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak, however, said Gonzalez-Davidson had abused his NGO’s status last year when he had set up road blocks that prevented local authorities from traveling in the district.
“We don’t want to implement legal actions; this is the last option,” he said.
“We received complaints from Koh Kong authorities, and demanded that Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson must be deported,” said Khieu Sopheak.
Gonzalez-Davidson, who had refused to leave when his visa expired Friday and said he would await forced deportation, is unlikely to be allowed back into Cambodia, said Khieu Sopheak.
“When we issued a removal notice, he was registered on a black list,” he said.
The deportation came after Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday lashed out against the opposition party for asking Cambodia’s King to intervene in the deportation.
Road block angers officials
Hun Sen asked NGOs and politicians not to get involved in the case of Gonzalez-Davidson and asked the Spaniard to leave the country.
“Regardless of [whether they are] foreigners or Cambodians those who abuse the law will be prosecuted,” he said.
Monday’s decision marked the first time a worker with a foreign NGO was prevented from entering the country since Global Witness staff members were denied visas in 2005.
On Feb. 17, opposition politicians and a group of 31 local rights groups, unions, communities and associations issued a statement urging the government to reverse course on a decision announced the previous week not to renew Gonzalez-Davidson’s visa.
In September, authorities briefly detained 11 local environmental activists, including Gonzalez-Davidson, for blocking a road and preventing Koh Kong provincial governor Phon Lyvirak and Chinese experts from visiting the Chhay Areng dam project site.
Gonzalez-Davidson told RFA at the time that villagers set up the road block after receiving information that Chinese experts and officials were traveling to the province to conduct studies on the impact of the dam, adding they did not believe the studies would be conducted fairly.
Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written by Paul Eckert.