A Spanish environmentalist who was deported from Cambodia and saw the organization he founded closed down by the Hun Sen government has labeled the Cambodian prime minister a “coward” after a court this week upheld a decision to sentence three activists over an anti-sand dredging campaign.
Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, the co-founder of NGO Mother Nature, said contrary to the popular image of Hun Sen as a “strongman,” he was “only strong against Cambodians: politicians, journalists, youths, even women land activists, using the judiciary network to accuse and make arrests and send people to prison without hesitation.”
“But for foreigners such as me, Hun Sen seems a coward, meaning he seems to not dare let me return to Cambodia,” he added, referring to a plea he made to Hun Sen to allow him to return to Cambodia to face charges alongside the Cambodian activists.
Gonzalez-Davidson was deported in 2015 over alleged visa violation, but the move by the immigration department was widely seen as politically motivated after Gonzalez-Davidson had for years led a campaign against a large hydropower dam in Koh Kong province.
The three former Mother Nature activists, San Mala, Try Sovikea and Sim Samnang, were charged with conspiracy to cause criminal damage, jailed for 10 months and handed a $25,000 fine.
Gonzalez-Davidson said in a video posted to Facebook that he had asked his lawyers to lodge a complaint to request information on the legal process against the activists.
He told VOA on Monday that while he would feel some trepidation if Hun Sen allowed his return to Cambodia to face charges, adding that he would take the risk to set an example.
Gen. Khieu Sopheak, an interior ministry spokesman, said Gonzalez-Davidson was blacklisted following his deportation and would not be legally allowed to re-enter Cambodia.
“He can come when the sun rises in the west because he was deported by the interior minister, so he is blacklisted,” he said.
Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator for local rights group Licadho, said the government should allow Gonzalez-Davidson to return to face the courts.