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Cambodia Releases Activists Detained Over Illegal Logging Protest

FILE PHOTO - Ouch Leng (third from the left), a Goldman Environmental Prize 2016 winner, and three other environmental activists. (Courtesy photo of CCHR)

Cambodian authorities on Monday released five environmental activists after they were detained for three days for protesting against illegal logging inside one of the country's biggest wildlife sanctuaries.

The five, including Ouch Leng, a 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize winner, were detained by rangers on Friday for being inside the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary without permission, Environment Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said.

The Kratie Provincial Court court had released the five who signed an agreement not to enter restricted areas without permission, Neth Pheaktra said. A case has also been filed against Ouch Leng's Cambodian Human Rights Task Force for not being registered with the Interior Ministry, he said.

Ouch Leng told Reuters he was released because he did not do anything wrong.

"A prosecutor said there is no crime and told us to go home," Ouch Leng said.

The activists still intended to go back to the sanctuary even if permission was not granted, he said.

The activists had mounted a campaign at Prey Lang last month, posting signs saying "don't cut down trees" and placing Buddhist robes on trees to protect the sanctuary, Ouch Leng said.

"They detained us so that they could take our cameras, pictures and phones so that we don't report logging crimes," he said.

A report by Global Witness said Prey Lang - which is home to endangered plants and animals - lost nearly a tenth of its forest cover in about two decades to 2018 and that illegal logging has escalated during the pandemic.

Asked whether illegal logging was taking place in the sanctuary, Neth Pheaktra said any evidence should be presented to the ministry.