UPDATE: Lack of evidence leaves court little choice but to acquit Mam Sonando and set him free (CCHR, 13 September 2012)
(CCHR/IFEX) - In a letter to the Cambodian authorities, forty IFEX members expressed deep concern over the arbitrary detention of rights defender Mam Sonando.
H.E. Hun Sen
Kingdom of Cambodia
Cc H.E. Hor Nam Hong, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Kingdom of Cambodia
H.E. Ang Vong Vathna, Minister of Justice, Kingdom of Cambodia
7 September 2012
We, the undersigned members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), are writing to express our deep concern regarding the arbitrary detention of Cambodian human rights defender and radio broadcaster Mam Sonando. Mam Sonando was arrested on what we believe are unwarranted charges of secession on 15 July 2012, and has been held ever since at Prey Sar Prison in Phnom Penh. Mam Sonando is the leader of advocacy group the Association of Democrats and founder of Beehive Radio, one of only three independent radio stations in Cambodia.
The charges against Mam Sonando relate to a land dispute in Kratie province, located in the east of Cambodia, where 15,000 hectares of land were granted to the Russian company, Casotim, through an economic land concession. On 16 May this year, hundreds of armed police and military police stormed Pro Ma village in an effort to evict around 1,000 families living in the concession area. When villagers refused to move from their land the authorities then opened fire causing the death of 14-year-old Heng Chantha.
After the incident, police arrested a number of individuals from the area, who they said were secessionists, seeking to gain independence from Cambodia. It was claimed by the Royal Government of Cambodia that the so-called secessionists had been plotting with the Democrat Association, led by Mam Sonando. Evidence for these claims has never been produced, and the so-called secessionists have denied any links with Mam Sonando or his organisation. Nevertheless, on 26 June 2012, Prime Minister, you made a speech at Phnom Penh's Koh Pich, in which you called for the arrest of Mam Sonando on the grounds that he was leading a plot to overthrow the government and attempting to establish a state within a state.
The day before your speech, on 25 June, a report was broadcast on Beehive Radio relating to a complaint made to the International Criminal Court (ICC) by the Khmer People's Power Movement (KPPM), accusing your government of crimes against humanity. This has led to the belief that the charges against Mam Sonando are related to his exercise of the right to freedom of expression, which is protected under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cambodia is a party.
We are further concerned because Mam Sonando is over 70 years old. He has become increasingly ill in prison, where he has been held in sub-standard conditions for more than six weeks. Despite his illness, and the fact that he returned from abroad to answer charges against him, two bail requests submitted by his lawyer have been denied.
Considering the arbitrary nature of Mam Sonando's arrest and detention, we call on your government and all the recipients of this letter to strive towards his immediate and unconditional release without charge. The hearing date for the case has been set for 11 September 2012. If Mam Sonando's liberty is not restored in the meantime and the hearing goes ahead, we urge the you to do your utmost to ensure that this man, who has the right to be presumed innocent before proven guilty, will be granted a fair and open trial in order to clear his name.
Thank you and we look forward to hearing from you.
Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Aliansi Jurnalis Independen/Alliance of Independent Journalists
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Association of Independent Electronic Media
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Center for Media Studies & Peace Building
Centre for Independent Journalism - Malaysia
Committee to Protect Journalists
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Federation of Nepali Journalists
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela
International Federation of Journalists
International Press Institute
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Rights Agenda
Pacific Freedom Forum
Pacific Islands News Association
Pakistan Press Foundation
Public Association "Journalists"
Reporters Without Borders
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
Thai Journalists Association
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters - AMARC
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Asia-Pacific