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Supreme Court Summons Environmental Activist for Alleged Forest Crimes

Ven Vorn, an environmental defender in Areng region, talks to VOA Khmer near the Court of Appeal, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, September 9, 2016 (Hul Reaksmey/VOA Khmer)

A local human rights monitor said this week that Ven Vorn was seeking legal aid ahead of the hearing, scheduled for June 21.

Cambodia’s highest court has summoned an environmental activist who has protested the controversial Areng Valley hydropower project over alleged forest crimes he is said to have committed in 2015.

A local human rights monitor said on Tuesday that Ven Vorn was seeking legal aid ahead of the hearing, scheduled for June 21.

“Some organizations have few lawyers and limited resources. But I still have hope that I will find him a lawyer,” said In Kongchet, provincial coordinator for local rights group Licadho.

Vorn was accused of illegally taking timber from the Areng Valley in January 2015. He maintains he only used legal timber and the wood was used to construct a visitor center in the valley in the hope of attracting ecotourism in the future.

Kongchet said Vorn had remained active in the community since he was charged. “He is still very active in environmental protection, defending the Areng Valley. He has a fearless mind,” he said.

Vorn could not be reached for comment.

In March, Vorn was sentenced by the Koh Kong Provincial Court to serve one year in prison for the alleged crime, but was given a suspended sentence for time served in pre-trial detention.

In September, the Appeals Court upheld the decision against him. He was also sued by Thmor Baing district authorities for his work with local environmental group Mother Nature, whose co-founder Alex Gonzalez-Davidson was deported from Cambodia in February 2015.

Three of Mother Nature’s activists in Kandal province were reportedly in a separate incident intimidated by the authorities while organizing an anti-sand dredging protest in Sa’ang district.

Local authorities denied the claims.