A Cambodian court has charged three environmental activists with conspiracy against the government and insulting the king.
Members of the group Mother Nature were arrested after recording a waste spill into the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian law on insulting the king is relatively new, and it is not clear how activists did so.
The three face 5 to 10 years in prison.
The prosecution told Reuters that “the evidence collected by police was an insult to the king,” but did not explain exactly how the law was violated.
Critics warn that the law introduced in 2018 is being used as a tool to silence dissent.
The activists are Sun Ratha (26 years old), Ly Chandaravuth (22 years old) and Yim Leanghy (32 years old), all members of Mother Nature in the activist group.
They were detained on June 16 while recording waste emissions into the Tonle Sap River near the Royal Palace. According to the Cambodian Human Rights Center..
“The Cambodian government is relentlessly targeting Mother Nature’s Cambodia,” Naly Pilorge, director of rights group Licadho, told Reuters.
“This shows an escalation due to the exorbitant accusation of the’plot’. “
After criticizing the controversial dam plan, Mother Nature’s founder Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, who was deported in 2015, was charged with absenteeism.
Last month, three other activists associated with the group were sentenced to 18 to 20 months in prison for organizing a march against a sand-filled capital lake.
Both Swedish and US embassies have criticized the accusation.
“I was very annoyed to hear the arrests of more environmental youth activists,” said US Ambassador Patrick Marpy. “Records of pollution are public services, not terrorism. We urge authorities to respond to citizens rather than silence them.
“The Cambodian government has stepped up a campaign to silence activists who peacefully advocate environmental protection,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Asia at Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“Foreign governments, UN country teams, and international donors should urge Cambodian authorities to withdraw absurd accusations against environmental activists and publicly condemn further crackdowns on peaceful activities.”
“Cambodia’s highly politicized courts mean that the indicted environmental activists do not have the opportunity to have a fair trial,” he added.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan dismissed criticism of the accusation, saying the government was merely applying the law.
“Rather than forging the news, we should find a good lawyer to challenge the matter in court,” he said.
Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy, with almost all power in the hands of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has run the country for decades.
Authoritarian governments are known for cracking down on criticism and dissent.