Free Cambodian environmental defender Koet Saray!

April 16, 2024

The Asia Pacific Network of Environment Defenders supports the call to release Mr. Koet Saray, a well-respected Cambodian environmental defender and student leader, the president of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association (KSILA).

Last April 5, Koet Saray was arrested by plain-clothes police officers at his office and sent to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court without being informed of his exact charge and without his family being given notice. This arrest was done under the charge of “incitement to cause social chaos,” accusing Saray of pushing people in the northern Preah Vihear province to commit land encroachment and engage in violent protests. Koet Saray is currently being detained pre-trial at the Prey Sar Prison, forcefully separated from his family days before the Khmer New Year.

We condemn this unjust arrest and harassment of Koet Saray by the Cambodian state, which criminalizes his courageous efforts to stand in solidarity with the people of Preah Vihear in their long-running land dispute with Seila Damex Co, a rubber plantation developer, since 2011. Saray helped bring to light the land rights abuses in Preah Vihear by doing interviews with the people and documenting how they lived in the forest. On March 21, he also assisted four youths in interviewing locals who had fled from the area, avoiding arrest from supposed land encroachment. 

The arrest of Koet Saray is the 50th instance of environmental defenders being arbitrarily arrested and detained in Cambodia since 2015, according to data collected by FORUM-Asia. At least 224 people have been impacted by the state’s attacks on civil society and freedom of expression, usually in defense of private interests to exploit natural landscapes. Saray’s case is evidence of the urgent need to investigate and end this culture of impunity with regards to state and private actors’ human and environmental rights violations. We need to adopt national and regional mechanisms to ensure the safety and protection of human rights and environmental defenders, especially youth and local community members.

Defend environmental defenders! Free Koet Saray!

#DefendEnvironmentalDefenders #FreeKoetSaray #JusticeForKoetSaray

SIGN-ON to the statement by Cambodian civil society calling for Koet Saray’s release:
https://forms.gle/Xz3rkn6mWhPN2PyV8

References

FORUM-ASIA. (2024). Asian HRDs Portal. https://asianhrds.forum-asia.org/en/page/jpnvxt51sxe 

Narim, K. (2024, April 8). Resounding Call To Release Human Rights Defender Koet Saray Charged For Incitement in Preah Vihear. CamboJA News. https://cambojanews.com/resounding-call-to-release-human-rights-defender-koet-saray-charged-for-incitement-in-preah-vihear/ 

RFA Khmer. (2024, March 13). After clash, Cambodian governor says some disputed land will go to villagers. Radio Free Asia. https://www.rfa.org/english/news/cambodia/governor-land-clash-03132024154045.html 

RFA Khmer. (2024, April 8). Cambodian groups call for charges to be dropped against student leader. Radio Free Asia. https://www.rfa.org/english/news/cambodia/student-leader-charged-04082024162428.html 

Yalirozy, T. (2024, April 8). Civil Groups Call for Release of Charged Student Leader Koet Saray. Cambodianess. https://cambodianess.com/article/civil-groups-call-for-release-of-charged-student-leader-koet-saray