Environmental activists wait to hear from ministry on travel appeal

‘Our story is purely political,’ said one of three activists who can’t leave Cambodia to accept an award.
By RFA Khmer
2023.10.17
Environmental activists wait to hear from ministry on travel appeal Members of the Mother Nature Movement, a Cambodian environmental activist group, march with chained hands and feet to protest a travel ban, in Phnom Penh on Oct. 6, 2023.
Credit: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP

Cambodian environmental activists who petitioned the Ministry of Justice to be allowed to travel to Sweden to receive an award have yet to hear if top government officials will intervene in their case.

Phuong Keoraksmey, Thun Ratha and Long Kunthea of Mother Nature Cambodia must ask for permission to leave the country because they are currently serving suspended prison sentences after being found guilty of incitement for their role in protests against forest and water development projects. 

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Prosecutor Chreung Khmao on Oct. 2 decided not to allow the three activists to travel abroad to receive the prestigious Right Livelihood Award next month, saying that it was “unnecessary.”

The three activists filed a petition on Oct. 6 asking the Ministry of Justice to step in and permit them to go to Sweden. They also draped themselves in chains and marched on the streets of Phnom Penh with several other Mother Nature activists to protest the court’s decision. 

ENG_KHM_MotherNature_10172023.2.jpg
Mother Nature Movement activists protest a travel ban, in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh on Oct. 6, 2023. Credit: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP

Phuong Keoraksmey told Radio Free Asia on Tuesday that the ministry has not responded to the petition.

“Obviously in Cambodia, our story is purely political,” she said, adding that is why they’ve sought help from higher ranking officials. “So, if we are allowed to go, it would be a good sign that shows the intention [of the government] to promote the respect for human rights.”

RFA attempted to reach Minister of Justice Keut Rith for comment on Tuesday but he wasn’t immediately available.

The Right Livelihood Award has been described as an alternative to the more famous Nobel Prize. The selection committee named the three activists as award recipients in recognition for their environmental activism on Sept. 29.

The award ceremony is scheduled to take place in Stockholm on Nov. 29. 

Am Sam Ath of human rights group Licadho said the refusal to let the activists travel reflects the government’s continued restrictions on civil society and social work activists.

“As a civil society organization working to promote human rights, we still urge the Royal Government or the court to allow Mother Nature to leave and receive the award,” he said.

“The award is a promotion of fundamental rights and freedoms, as well as encouraging young people to participate in social work, work to protect the environment and natural resources.”

Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Edited by Matt Reed.

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