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Cambodia sentences broadcaster to 20 years

UPDATE: CCHR Open Letter to Appellate Court regarding the case of Mam Sonando (CCHR, 16 November 2012)

(CCHR/IFEX) - Phnom Penh, 1 October 2012 - CCHR condemns in the strongest possible terms the guilty verdict brought against Mam Sonando today at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. He was found guilty of all the charges brought against him - under articles 28, 456, 457, 464, 504 and 609 of the Penal Code 2009 - including instigating an alleged insurrection in Kratie province in May 2012 and inciting people to take up arms against the state authority. He has been sentenced to 20 years in prison and a fine of 10 million riel (approx. US$2,470). Bun Ratha, who is also accused of instigating the same alleged insurrection, was sentenced in absentia to 30 years; two others were sentenced in absentia to 15 years; and three other defendants held in pre-trial detention were handed sentences of ten months, three years and five years. Seven others were handed suspended sentences ranging from ten months to five years.

Over the course of three days of close monitoring of Mam Sonando's trial last month, CCHR heard no evidence that in any way connected Mam Sonando with the May 2012 events in Broma village, Kratie province, or with any of the charges of which he has now been found guilty. Given the lack of evidence, the only rational, reasonable and legal thing the court could have done, as CCHR and many others urged during the trial, would be to acquit Mam Sonando of all charges against him and set him free immediately. Today's events represent a gross travesty of justice - an outrageous violation of Mam Sonando's right to freedom of expression and fair trial rights, including the fundamental right to be deemed innocent until proven guilty.

One of Cambodia's most prominent human rights defenders, 70-year-old Mam Sonando founded Beehive Radio, one of only three independent radio stations in Cambodia which regularly broadcasts reports that are critical of the Royal Government of Cambodia (the "RGC") and its allies. On 25 June 2012 Beehive Radio broadcast a report about a complaint brought to the International Criminal Court accusing the RGC of crimes against humanity. The following day, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for the arrest of Mam Sonando. After returning to Cambodia on 12 July 2012 to answer the charges filed against him, Mam Sonando was arrested at his home on 15 July 2012 in connection with the alleged secession movement in Kratie province during which a 14-year-old girl was shot dead by the military. He said from prison: "Even though I am incarcerated, in my heart I am free . . . I have done nothing wrong, therefore I will not hide."

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Further information from the IFEX network:

The case against Mam Sonando must undergo a fair retrial
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

Prior to the sentencing, the arrest and detention of Mam Sonando have been problematic, with repeated denials of bail requests. Due consideration has not been given to his high profile role in society as a radio station owner, his advanced age, and health problems aggravated by being under detention - which should make him eminently eligible for bail.

SEAPA and Media Defence Southeast Asia (MD-SEA) see the sentencing of Mam Sonando and 11 other persons as an open threat to both journalists delivering independent news coverage and political commentary, as well as to civil society, human rights and community organizations who are actively protesting legitimate social issues in Cambodia related to internationally-recognised human rights. They therefore demand a retrial of the 12 accused in a fair judicial process consistent with international and Cambodian human rights norms on due process and judicial procedure.

Journalist Mam Sonando sentenced to twenty years; health concerns
Source: Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International

The Writers in Prison Committee expressed serious concern at reports that Mam Sonando is in poor health after reportedly contracting a respiratory infection in prison, and seeks assurances that he is given full access to all necessary medical care as a matter of urgency.

Quash convictions of critics, protesters
Source: Human Rights Watch

The convictions of Sonando and other critics of the government come in the run-up to national elections in 2013 and the forced exile of opposition party leader Sam Rainsy. "These convictions and harsh sentences should serve as a wake-up call to foreign donors that Cambodia is rapidly becoming a one-party state. [Prime Minister] Hun Sen has been in power for more than 27 years and doesn't seem to mind his country replacing Burma as ASEAN's pariah state."

Independent radio station owner will be 91 when released
Source: Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders and the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media are very concerned for the future of journalists and human rights defenders in Cambodia, especially in the wake of other incidents in the past month. Journalist Hang Serei Oudom was found murdered in mid-September after implicating local officials in illegal trafficking in timber, while journalist Ek Sokunthy and his wife told the Phnom Penh Post on 26 September that they had been attacked by a former police officer and two other men for no apparent reason.


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