Cambodia: Conviction of Prey Lang activist marks further repression of environmental defenders

Responding to the conviction of Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) activist Chan Thoeun for “intentional violence with aggravating circumstances”, Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns, said:

“Chan Thoeun and the PLCN have been standing up against powerful illegal logging interests for years. They have defended the Prey Lang forest while the Cambodian authorities have turned a blind eye to the rampant destruction of this vital ecosystem, which is an essential part of the culture of Indigenous Kuy communities.”

“While Chan Thouen will not face a prison term, this remains an unjust conviction. He never should have been charged or tried in the first place. This conviction fits the pattern of previous attempts to silence and intimidate environmental activists in Prey Lang and across Cambodia, where bogus charges and suspended sentences are frequently used to suppress peaceful activism.”

“Time and time again, the Cambodian courts fail to deliver genuine justice in cases involving human rights defenders and environmental activists. Meanwhile, the Cambodian government continues to trample on Indigenous Peoples’ rights and allows logging companies to pursue their illegal activities with impunity.”

“Cambodia cannot be a responsible climate actor while marginalizing, harassing and convicting Indigenous and environmental activists in unfair trials. Amnesty International calls on the Cambodian authorities to overturn this verdict and to allow independent environmental groups to undertake unrestricted monitoring of illegal deforestation.”


Today, Cambodian environmental activist Chan Thoeun, an activist with the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) was convicted of “intentional violence with aggravating circumstances” under Articles 217 and 218 of the Criminal Code and given a two-year suspended sentence. He was initially tried in absentia for “attempted murder” by the Kampong Thom Provincial Court of First Instance on 16 September, and the charges against him changed today during the verdict announcement.

The alleged incident occurred in July 2020 in Kampong Thom’s Sandan district after Chan Thoeun had taken photos of trucks illegally transporting timber from the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary. According to Chan Thoeun’s lawyer, after the confrontation, the alleged victim filed a complaint with district military police accusing Chan Thoeun of attempted murder.

Chan Thoeun has vehemently denied the allegations against him. PLCN have stated that the complainant is a timber trader who was engaged in illegal logging at the time of the confrontation with Chan Thoeun.

Prey Lang is mainland Southeast Asia’s largest lowland evergreen forest, covering approximately 500,000 hectares across four provinces. In 2016, much of the forest was designated as a wildlife sanctuary. More than 250,000 people live in and around Prey Lang, most of whom identify as Indigenous Kuy. Prey Lang is a crucial part of the Kuy people’s livelihood, culture and spirituality.

Widespread illegal logging and the repression of environmental activism are among the grave threats to Cambodia’s Prey Lang rainforest. In February 2020, the Cambodian authorities banned environmental defenders from entering the Prey Lang wildlife sanctuary and PLCN have been barred from conducting their forest patrols ever since.

Throughout 2021, Cambodian authorities have unleashed a relentless assault on environmental activists, while the government claims to be a responsible actor on climate and promotes the country as a suitable market for carbon credits ahead of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26.

In early February 2021, Ministry of Environment officers arrested and arbitrarily detained five environmental defenders while they were investigating illegal logging in Prey Lang. They were only released three days later, after signing a document committing them to refrain from entering Prey Lang without permission from the Ministry of Environment.

Several grassroots environmental groups, including PLCN, have been threatened based on accusations they are operating illegally because they are not registered under Cambodia’s widely-criticized Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations.

In June 2021, four environmental activists affiliated with Mother Nature Cambodia, a prominent campaign group that has won several major environmental victories, were charged variously with “plotting” and “insulting the King” (lèse majesté) after investigating river pollution in the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Penh. In May 2021, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted and sentenced five Mother Nature Cambodia activists to between 18 and 20 months in prison for seeking to protest government plans to fill and privatize a major lake in the capital.