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Rights groups support Mam Sonando ahead of his appeal in Cambodia

UPDATE: Cambodian authorities tell citizens to remove the Mam Sonando Justice Calendar from their homes (CCHR, 1 March 2013)

(CCHR/IFEX) - On 26 February 2013, Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) and Media Defence Southeast Asia (MD-SEA) - both non-governmental organizations (NGOs) committed to assisting journalists and independent media outlets to defend the right to freedom of expression - submitted a joint Amicus Brief to the Court of Appeal in advance of Mam Sonando's appeal hearing which begins on 5 March 2013.

The Amicus Brief, which raises important points in relation to the right to freedom of expression of the appellant, Mam Sonando, is the first of its kind to be submitted to the domestic courts in Cambodia, and yet it is standard practice in many judicial systems around the world including many of Cambodia's neighboring countries.

The Amicus Brief outlines Cambodia's binding legal obligations regarding freedom of expression under international law, most notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and submits that the court of first instance failed to apply the appropriate standards in its consideration of the charges brought against Mam Sonando. Given these shortcomings in the initial trial, MLDI and MD-SEA call upon the Court of Appeal to quash Mam Sonando's conviction.

On the afternoon of 26 February 2013, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), as MLDI and MD-SEA's partner in Cambodia, submitted the Amicus Brief to the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh on MLDI and MD-SEA's behalf. The document was successfully submitted directly to the President of the Appeal Court.

On 1 October 2012, 71-year-old journalist and human rights defender Mam Sonando was found guilty of instigating an insurrection in Pro Ma village, Kratie province – the site of a land conflict and forced eviction. Mam Sonando was charged under six articles of the Penal Code 2009 as follows: Articles 456 and 457, which prohibit insurrection and stipulate the attached penalties, respectively; Article 464, which prohibits incitement to take up arms against the state authority; Article 504, which prohibits the obstruction of public officials with aggravating circumstances; Article 609, which prohibits unlawful interference in the discharge of public functions; and Article 28, which establishes criminal liability for the instigation of a felony or misdemeanor under Cambodian law.

Despite a stark lack of evidence to link him with the alleged secession in Pro Ma village, Mam Sonando was sentenced to 20 years in prison – a veritable death sentence for a man of his age.

MLDI Senior Legal Counsellor Nani Jansen comments:

“Cambodia has very clear and binding obligations under international law to guarantee and protect the right to freedom of expression. These obligations are not only applicable to the government; the judiciary should uphold these standards as well. Mam Sonando was convicted for exercising his right to freedom expression, under the guise of protecting national security. This and the fact that Mam Sonando is a journalist, which warrants additional protection of his right to free expression, should have led the court of first instance to apply strict scrutiny to the curtailing of Mam Sonando's rights. We hope that the Court of Appeal will correct this omission and quash Mam Sonando's conviction.”

CCHR President Ou Virak comments:

“This Amicus Brief is a very valuable document, and we have submitted it on MLDI and MD-SEA's behalf because we believe it will be of genuine assistance to the court for Mam Sonando's appeal hearing. We encourage other independent organizations to take an interest in such cases and apply their expertise to assist Cambodian courts – especially when the legal effects of court decisions in such high profile cases are potentially so far-reaching and threaten fundamental rights, like freedom of expression, so existentially.”

MD-SEA Director HR Dipendra comments:

“There are strong grounds to conclude that the arrest of Mr. Sonando was in the exercise of his right to freedom of expression. Cambodia has an obligation under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it is a State party, to respect and ensure Mr. Sonando's right to freedom of expression is protected and that his conviction is overturned immediately.”


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