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Cambodia environmental group slams 'politically motivated' trial

PHNOM PENH — Members of a Cambodian conservation group are facing up to 10 years in prison on charges its founder says are politically motivated and part of a wider crackdown on government criticism — allegations the authorities deny.

A total of 10 activists from the Mother Nature group have been accused of plotting against the government, charges that carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.

Three of them were also charged with violating Cambodia's lese majeste laws, which carry a maximum five-year sentence, with the court expected to deliver verdicts on July 2.

The proceedings come amid deepening concern about political freedom in Cambodia under Prime Minister Hun Manet, who took power in 2023 after the decades-long rule of his father, Hun Sen.

Under Hun Sen, the opposition was all but dismantled, independent media shuttered and dozens of activists jailed.

Facing the charges in absentia, Mother Nature founder Alejandro Gonzales-Davidson has slammed the trial.

"It's a kangaroo trial," he said, adding that his lawyer said there was no evidence to support the charges.

Pen Bona, a spokesman for the Cambodian government, denied the group was being targeted for its environmental activism or that the charges were politically motivated.

"The government has never taken action against those who criticise. The government only takes action against those who commit crimes," he said.

Founded by Spanish national Gonzales-Davidson in 2013, Mother Nature has long campaigned against environmental destruction in Cambodia, highlighting deforestation, illegal sand mining and corruption in development projects.

Three activists involved in the trial have previously been jailed on incitement charges but have since been released.

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