The Supreme Court of Cambodia has upheld the guilty verdict of a lower-court against three Cambodian environmental activists over their involvement in a 2015 anti-sand dredging campaign in Koh-Kong province.
San Mala, Try Sovikear, and Sim Samnang of the environmental group Mother Nature, were arrested in August 2015 following a complaint by the sand dredging company Direct Access for causing damage and threatening company staff. The trio have consistently denied the allegations and insist the sand-dredging activity lacked transparency and was tainted by corruption. The verdict upholds the original sentence of 18 months' imprisonment and a $25,000 fine.
Sand-dredging is big business in Cambodia and the county has exported considerable quantities to enable land-reclamation projects, notably in Singapore. Environmental groups have run a longstanding campaign against the industry, saying it is riddled with corruption and citing environmental damage. Their campaigns have been credited with leading to a ban in sand exports in 2017 although activists say illegal exports have continued.
What will the implications of this verdict be for environmental activism in Cambodia? Will it temper civic engagement in a country that has been openly criticised for becoming increasingly authoritarian? To what extent are countries that import sand from Cambodia responsible for the crackdown on activists?