CAMBODIA: Independent radio station director Mam Sonando arrested and charged

17/07/2012
Urgent Appeal

Paris-Geneva, July 17, 2012. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), is gravely concerned about the 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. 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] 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.

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 flout 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.

The Observatory calls 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.

Instead of making peaceful speech a crime, Cambodia should be investigating wrongful acts by state agents in cases involving excessive use of force against those protesting against widespread land-grabbing and other human rights abuses”, urged Ms. Stothard.

For further information, please contact:

FIDH: Karine Appy / Arthur Manet: + 33 1 43 55 25 18

OMCT: Isabelle Scherer: + 41 22 809 49 39

Read more
appelobs