Cambodian government won't budge on denying visa to Spanish activist
|Publisher||Radio Free Asia|
|Publication Date||18 February 2015|
|Cite as||Radio Free Asia, Cambodian government won't budge on denying visa to Spanish activist, 18 February 2015, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/5507ea35af1.html [accessed 17 December 2017]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Alejandro Gonzalez Davidson speaks with RFA in Phnom Penh, Feb. 16, 2015. RFA
Cambodia's government on Wednesday stood its ground on a decision not to renew the visa of a Spanish environmental activist when it expires this week, despite calls from the opposition and local NGOs who say he is being deported for his opposition to a controversial dam project.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng ordered the Interior Ministry's Immigration Department not to renew the visa of Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson – director of the NGO Mother Nature Cambodia – when it expires on Feb. 20, local media reported over the weekend, and authorities say he will have to leave the country before his reentry is considered.
In a letter penned earlier this week, opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Sam Rainsy urged Sar Kheng to reverse his decision denying a visa to Gonzalez-Davidson, who has long campaigned against the planned Chhay Areng hydropower dam in Koh Kong province.
"Alejandro hasn't committed any crime justifying deportation," Sam Rainsy told RFA's Khmer Service Wednesday, adding that Gonzalez-Davidson has frequently expressed his love for Cambodia and its traditions, and speaks Khmer fluently.
Sam Rainsy also expressed concern that the government would not allow Gonzalez-Davidson to return if he is forced to leave the country.
Ministry of Interior secretary of state Em Sam An, however, said Gonzalez-Davidson had "abused" Mother Nature's registration status after briefly preventing officials from visiting the Chhay Areng dam project site in September.
"[He] incited people to set a roadblock, preventing officers from meeting with residents of Koh Kong's Thmar Baing district – he confessed to this indecent act in his own written statement, dated Sept. 15 2014," Em Sam An told RFA.
"So the Ministry of Interior requires Alejandro to leave the country for a short period of time before returning to Cambodia, if he is qualified as an immigrant according to the law of the Kingdom of Cambodia."
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak confirmed that the activist would be forced to leave the country, adding that he had been renewing his visa "for around 10 years."
"He must leave for a short period of time in order to apply for a new visa," he said.
Gonzalez-Davidson told RFA Wednesday that he would not willingly leave the country on Friday, but warned he could be forced out by authorities.
"If they force me, I'll have no choice," he said.
"But wherever Alejandro goes, his heart will remain in Cambodia."
If Gonzalez-Davidson is refused reentry to Cambodia, the decision would mark the first time a worker with a foreign NGO was prevented from entering the country since Global Witness staff members were denied visas in 2005.
A group of 31 local rights groups, unions, communities and associations on Tuesday released a joint statement in support of Gonzalez-Davidson, urging the government to reverse course on its decision not to renew the activist's visa.
"We strongly urge the Cambodian government to reconsider its decision and allow for Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson to continue working . . . to support local communities," the statement said.
The groups said the government wants Gonzalez-Davidson gone to prevent him from organizing any further opposition to the 108-megawatt Chhay Areng dam, which is backed by ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) lawmaker Lao Meng Khin and his wife, who have evicted thousands of families from land around the country.
Activists say the dam would force more than 300 ethnic minority families off of their ancestral land and would destroy the habitat of endangered animals.
"The government's decision to deny Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson a visa renewal is a perfect example of the government's sustained attempt to quash grassroots advocacy, silence dissent and ensure an environment where the government can operate with immunity from independent criticism," Naly Pilorge, the director of local rights group Licadho, said in the statement.
Ee Sarom, executive director of rights group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), said denying Gonzalez-Davidson a visa "will not make the grievances of Areng valley communities go away."
"Instead of kicking him out, authorities would be better discussing the issue with Mother Nature and the local communities it represents taking into full account the issues at stake," he said.
In September, authorities briefly detained 11 local environmental activists, including Gonzalez-Davidson, for blocking a road and preventing Koh Kong provincial governor Phon Lyvirak and Chinese experts from visiting the Chhay Areng dam project site.
Gonzalez-Davidson told RFA at the time that villagers set up the road block after receiving information that Chinese experts and officials were traveling to the province to conduct studies on the impact of the dam, adding they did not believe the studies would be conducted fairly.
Sam Rainsy said following talks with Prime Minister Hun Sen in October that construction of the U.S. $400 million dam project to be built by China's Sinohydro Corporation would not take place under the current five-year term of the government, which ends in 2018.
Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.