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Jul-17-2012 21:35printcomments

CAMBODIA: Immediately Release Independent Radio Owner Mam Sonando

He faces a long prison sentence if convicted.

Radio journalist Mam Sonando, seen here with police in court in 2005, was charged with anti-state activities on Monday. (Reuters/Chor Sokunthea)
Radio journalist Mam Sonando, seen here with police in court in 2005, was charged with anti-state activities on Monday. (Reuters/Chor Sokunthea)

(SALEM) - No amount of political fairness could ever be too much for the people of Cambodia; and the news that a Cambodia radio station owner is being subjected to government media interference and arrest should be unacceptable to all of us.

At 70-years of age, radio station owner Mr. Mam Sonandois, is a French and Cambodian citizen who has dared to express public criticism of his government's rotten and less than dignified Human Rights record.

He also earned the apparent political wrath of his government when he raised objections to land evictions that are gutting the soul from his ancient land where so many perished in a Genocide in the mid to late 1970's.

An arrest warrant was issued for Mr. Sonando was outside of his country, however he returned and was only back three days before being arrested and charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court under six articles under the Penal Code.

As Mr. William Gomes explains in his letter below, this journalist, if convicted of any of these offenses, faces a long prison sentence.

Mr. Hun Sen
Prime Minister
Cabinet of the Prime Minister
No. 38, Russian Federation Street
Phnom Penh
Fax: +855 23 36 0666
Tel: +855 2321 9898

Re: CAMBODIA: Immediately release independent radio owner Mam Sonando

Dear Mr.Hun Sen,

I am William Nicholas Gomes, Human Rights Ambassador for

I have been informed by several international human rights organizations regarding the situations of independent radio owner Mam sonando. The information that I have received regarding his situations from several international organizations including Human rights watch, Freedom House, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and several credible sources within Cambodia.

I am deeply concerned that serious charges pressed against Mr. Mam Sonando, Director and Owner of the FM station 105 ( Beehive Radio), one of the few independent media outlets in Cambodia. Mr. Sonando is also known for his criticisms of the Government's human rights record and his denunciation of land evictions.

Mr. Sonando was abroad when the arrest warrant was issued and he returned to Cambodia on July 12, 2012. In the morning on July 15, the police arrested Mr. Mam Sonando at his home in Phnom Penh. On July 16, he was formally charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court under six articles under the Penal Code.[1][1] Each of these charges carries long prison terms. The presiding judge denied Mr. Sonando’s application for bail, ignoring the fact that Mr. Sonando voluntarily returned to Cambodia despite the serious accusations levelled against him, which seems to indicate he has no intention to flee. He is now in pre-trial detention in CC1 prison in Phnom Penh.

Mr. Sonando is 70-year-old and holds both Cambodian and French citizenships. He is also the president of the Democrats Association, a non-governmental organisation duly registered with the Ministry of Interior with a mission to advocate for democratic freedoms and to raise awareness of civil and political rights.

The latest charges stem from accusations by the government that Mr. Sonando was responsible for instigating villagers inhabiting an area of farmland in Kratie province marked for development by the Russian company Casotim, which has been granted a 15,000 hectare economic land concession. On May 16, the government sent in hundreds of armed security personnel, supported by helicopter, to evict the villagers, killing Heng Chantha, a 14-year-old girl, during the crackdown. Government officials later justified the operation by claiming the villagers, some of whom are members of the Democrats Association, were part of an attempt to secede from Cambodia. The authorities have so far failed to initiate an investigation into the military siege and the killing of Heng Chantha. Authorities have also failed to release any evidence of the so-called secessionist movement.

On June 22 2012, Mr. Sonando was in the Hague, the Netherlands, to cover the presentation of a communication to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) containing allegations of crimes against humanity committed by the Cambodian government. The communication was submitted by the Khmer People Power Movement (KPPM), which is headed by prominent government critic Sourn Serey Ratha. On June 22, the ICC acknowledged in writing the receipt of KPPM’s communication. Mr. Sonando’s report on KPPM’s communication to the ICC was broadcast by Beehive station on June 25. A day later, on June 26, Prime Minister Hun Sen urged in a nationally broadcasted public speech that Mr. Sonando be arrested for masterminding “a plot to overthrow the government and attempting to establish a state within a state”. No evidence has been presented to substantiate this claim.

According to freedom house , “Sonando was in the Hague on June 22, broadcasting a presentation by the dissident group Khmer People Power Movement to the International Criminal Court (ICC) – which accused the Cambodian government of committing crimes against humanity. Twenty-four hours after Sonado’s broadcast aired on June 25, the prime minister called for his arrest in a nationally-televised speech, citing sedition charges under Articles 28, 456, 457, 464, 504, and 609 of the Penal Code. An arrest warrant was issued on July 2, and Sonando returned to Cambodia on July 12. His arrest three days later came barely 24 hours after foreign ministers and diplomats from around the world departed the city, including United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton. If convicted under Article 464 alone, the 70-year-old broadcaster could face 15 to 30 years in prison. Sonado has been denied bail and is currently being held in the notoriously overcrowded Phnom Penh Prey Sar Prison.”

“The baseless charges against Mam Sonando are the latest examples of the Cambodian government’s tendency to intimidate critical voices, in particular human rights defenders, and flaunt its human rights obligations under the domestic and international law”, said Debbie Stothard, FIDH Deputy Secretary-General.

Mr. Sonando has been imprisoned twice before. In 2003, he served two weeks in prison after being charged with giving "false" information and inciting people to commit crimes and to discriminate, in connection to a telephone call made to a program broadcast by Beehive radio in January 2003. In 2005, he was again arrested and imprisoned for three months on charges of incitement and defamation for giving an interview over the radio in which criticism of a border treaty between Cambodia and Vietnam was discussed.

I call on the Cambodian authorities to drop all charges against Mam Sonando and release him immediately and without conditions, as his detention is arbitrary and the judicial proceedings against him appear to be aimed at sanctioning the exercise of his legitimate right to freedom of expression, protected by both the Cambodian Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Cambodia has ratified.

I trust you positively consider my request above.

Yours sincerely,

William Nicholas Gomes
Human Rights Ambassador for
P.O. Box 5238
Salem, Oregon 97304

[1] Article 28 defines the crime of instigation of felony or a misdemeanor (felony is punishable by life imprisonment or by more than five years but no more than 30 years, while a fine may also be imposed in addition to imprisonment; a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment between six days to five years, while a fine may also be imposed in addition to imprisonment); Articles 456 and 457 define the crime of insurrectionary movement (punishable by imprisonment from seven to 15 years); Article 464 defines the crime of inciting people to take up arms against state authority (punishable by imprisonment from 15 to 30 years if effective); Article 504 defines the crime of obstruction of public officials (punishable by imprisonment from six months to one year and a fine from one million to two million Riels); Article 609 defines the crime of unlawful interference in the discharge of public functions (punishable by imprisonment from one to three years and a fine from two million to six million Riels).

______________________________ Human Rights Ambassador William Nicholas Gomes is a Bangladeshi journalist, human rights activist and author was born on 25 December, 1985 in Dhaka. As an investigative journalist he wrote widely for leading European and Asian media outlets.

He is also active in advocating for free and independent media and journalists’ rights, and is part of the free media movement, Global Independent Media Center – an activist media network for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate telling of the truth. He worked for Italian news agency from year 2009 to 2011, on that time he was accredited as a free lance journalist by the press information department of Bangladesh. During this time he has reported a notable numbers of reports for the news agency which were translated into Chinese and Italian and quoted by notable number of new outlets all over the world.He, ideologically, identifies himself deeply attached with anarchism. His political views are often characterized as “leftist” or “left-wing,” and he has described himself as an individualist anarchist.

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