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Court Prepares for Final Ruling in Forestry Case Against Environmentalist

Ven Vorn, a Chong ethnic minority representative and activist, talks to reporters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 21, 2017. (Hul Reaksmey/VOA Khmer)

Ven Vorn has denied he had broken the law during the hearing on Wednesday.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday has said it will issue a final verdict in a controversial case against an environmentalist from Koh Kong province who was found guilty of forestry crimes last year.

Ven Vorn, who has campaigned against the China-funded Stung Cheay Areng Hydropower dam project, was found guilty of “collecting forestry products without legal permission” in March 2016.

The decision was upheld by the Appeals Court in September of the same year.

Vorn denied he had broken the law during the hearing on Wednesday, saying he bought small amounts of timber from local timber merchants to construct a visitor center in the valley.

During the hearing, where reporters were barred from recording proceedings or taking photographs, Vorn’s lawyer, Tith Thero, was interrupted by Judge Kim Sathavy.

Thero made the case that Vorn had not broken any forestry laws as the timber was purchased for public use. He called on the court to throw out the case.

The prosecution repeated calls for the verdict to be upheld. Sathavy said the verdict would be announced on June 28.

“I didn’t commit any crimes because I bought wood for communal use, not for my personal interest, meaning it’s for the general public. The budget I got was not mine; it was a community budget,” said Vorn.

In Kongchet, provincial coordinator for local human rights group Licadho, said he was confident that Vorn was innocent and had not broken any laws.

“He’s innocent, a good man, and has not committed any crimes,” he said. “First, he didn’t have bad intentions. Second, he is honest with his community, working to develop his indigenous Chorng minority community in the Areng Valley.”