PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A court in Cambodia on Monday barred three environmental activists who are serving suspended prison sentences for their advocacy work from traveling to Sweden next month to receive the prestigious Right Livelihood Award.
A copy of a letter from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s chief prosecutor, Chreung Khmao, said the trip by the members of the group Mother Nature Cambodia was “not necessary.” The letter, seen by The Associated Press, came in response to a travel request from the activists.
Thon Ratha, 31, Phuong Keo Reaksmey, 22, and Long Khunthea, 25, asked for permission to make a Nov. 24- Dec, 1 trip to receive the award, which is sometimes characterized as the “Alternative Nobel.”
Mother Nature Cambodia was co-winner of the award this year along with Phyllis Omido, a Kenyan community activist, and SOS Mediterranee, a humanitarian group that rescues migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Stockholm-based Right Livelihood Foundation said the winners “stand up to save lives, preserve nature and safeguard the dignity and livelihoods of communities around the world,” and “fight for people’s right to health, safety, a clean environment and democracy.”
It cited Mother Nature Cambodia for its “fearless and engaging activism to preserve Cambodia’s natural environment in the context of a highly restricted democratic space.” Cambodia’s government under long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen, who stepped down this year, showed little tolerance for challenges to the status quo.
In June 2021, the three Cambodian activists were convicted of incitement to commit a felony for their activities in 2017-2020 to protect the country’s natural resources. They lost an appeal in December. Their 14-month prison sentences were suspended but they were barred from traveling outside Cambodia for three years without permission from the court.
Am Sam Ath, a senior member of the Cambodian human rights organization Licadho, expressed regret that the court refused to let the activists make the journey.
“They should have received encouragement to go by the court and Cambodian authorities because of their work for the sake of the country and because they have set a good example for the younger Cambodian generation,” Am Sam Ath said.
Created in 1980, the annual Right Livelihood Award honors efforts that the prize founder, Swedish-German philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull, felt were being ignored by the Nobel Prizes. To date, 190 laureates from 74 countries have received the award.
The foundation behind the prize has said this year’s winners will be recognized at a Nov. 29 award presentation ceremony in Stockholm.
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