by Kevin Ponniah and Chhay Channyda / The Phnom Penh Post
Interior Minister Sar Kheng has ordered immigration authorities not to renew the visa of Spanish environmental activist Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, which expires on February 20, senior immigration department officials said yesterday.
Gonzalez-Davidson, of Mother Nature, an NGO, has led a campaign against the controversial Stung Cheay Areng Dam project in Koh Kong province and has attracted a large following on Facebook for his activism.
The Khmer-speaking Spaniard attracted a thinly veiled threat of deportation from senior ruling party lawmaker Chheang Vun in December, three months after he and other Mother Nature activists were briefly detained for blocking security forces and authorities on an access road to the Areng Valley.
Sok Veasna, the director of the department of non-immigrants and technology at the Interior Ministry’s general immigration department, which handles non-permanent visas for foreigners, confirmed the order yesterday.
“Our minister decided not to extend his visa, so we already made a call and would like to meet him … to let him know that his visa will be expired and he will need to leave Cambodia,” he said.
“Our ministry still has his passport, however. We request him to come and pick up his passport and leave Cambodia.”
Veasna said Gonzalez-Davidson would not be banned from returning to the Kingdom if he leaves voluntarily. But otherwise, he would be deported and barred from returning.
Sok Phal, the director-general of immigration, said that the decision was made after local authorities in Koh Kong lodged a complaint about Gonzalez Davidson’s activities.
When asked if he was being denied a visa because of his environmental activism, Phal replied, “Don’t ask me that. I can’t comment on it; I only do technical work.”
Koh Kong provincial governor Bun Leut said that he filed the complaint to the MoI that led to the decision.
“Alex made trouble with local authorities in Thma Bang district. He took the car of his NGO to block my deputy governor’s group who went to visit the villagers in the Areng area,” he said.
Gonzelez-Davidson said that there was “no doubt” in his mind that the decision to deny him visa renewal was related to his anti-dam activism.
He also rejected the governor’s interpretation of the September road-blocking incident.
“He says that we were blocking the road and we stopped the authorities from meeting the villagers. To anyone who has any understanding of the situation, that is absolutely ridiculous. The only time the authorities have visited the villagers in 15 years has been to cheat, threaten or scam them.”
He added that the Areng Valley campaign had been “extremely successful”.
“They will have to deport me. I will throw as many eggs as I can at their face,” he said, vowing not to leave the country before his visa expires.
Senior opposition lawmaker Son Chhay condemned the decision and said he would seek to question Sar Kheng in parliament about the exact reasons why the visa had been denied.
“Alex has done so much good for the country … what he is trying to do is not for his own benefit – he was trying to protect our environment,” he said.
“It’s not going to be easy for Sar Kheng.”