KOH KONG, Cambodia — “I think there’s a 30% chance we’ll have trouble with the police,” said Ly Chandaravuth, an environmental activist with the outlawed group Mother Nature Cambodia.
This was in August 2022, when Mother Nature Cambodia was planning a trip to Koh Kong Krao, an island off Cambodia’s southwest coast in Koh Kong province, to raise awareness about the pristine ecosystems there.
But the group’s activism has had consequences, and Chandaravuth’s calculations, near one-in-three odds of being arrested just for visiting the island, were not unfounded.
On June 16, 2021, Chandaravuth, then a law student, was apprehended by police while collecting water samples from the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Penh. He’d planned to have the samples analyzed to better understand water pollution in the city. Instead, he was charged with plotting against the government, a charge that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.