Group behind ‘alternative Nobel’ is concerned that Cambodia barred activists from going to Sweden

STOCKHOLM (AP) — The foundation that awards the Right Livelihood Award expressed concern Tuesday over a decision by Cambodia to bar three environmental activists who are serving suspended prison sentences for their advocacy work from traveling to Sweden to receive the prize known as the “alternative Nobel.”

The Right Livelihood Foundation also called for the ruling to be reconsidered and said that next month's award presentation in Stockholm will go on as planned.

“While we are saddened by this news, we are proud of the work undertaken by Mother Nature Cambodia in the face of adversity,” the foundation said.

On Monday, the chief prosecutor with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court said the trip by Thon Ratha, Phuong Keo Reaksmey and Long Khunthea was “not necessary.” They had asked for permission to make the trip Nov. 24- Dec. 1 to receive the award.

Last month, Mother Nature Cambodia was announced as co-winner of the award along with Phyllis Omido, a Kenyan community activist, and SOS Mediterranee, a humanitarian group that rescues migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. The Cambodian group was cited for its “fearless and engaging activism to preserve Cambodia’s natural environment in the context of a highly restricted democratic space.”

The Stockholm-based foundation said the Cambodian government’s “hostile stance against the organization is evident.” It cited “the unjust imprisonment" of 11 activists, the forced exile of their founder, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, and ongoing intimidation, legal harassment and surveillance of those who support the organization.

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 to protect natural resources. They lost an appeal in December. Their 14-month prison sentences were suspended but they were barred from traveling abroad for three years without permission from the court.

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.

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