CAMBODIA: Regret at the conviction of human rights defender Mam Sonando

14/03/2013
Urgent Appeal

Paris-Geneva, March 14, 2013. The Observatory for the Promotion of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation or Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), expresses its regret at the sentencing of Mr. Mam Sonando, but welcomes the fact that he will be released from detention due to a suspension of his sentence. Mr. Mam Sonando, Director and owner of the independent FM station 105 (Beehive Radio) and President of the non-governmental organisation Democrats’ Association, is an outspoken critic of the Government’s human rights record, including serious and systematic violations of land and housing rights.

Today, Mr. Mam Sonando was sentenced by the Court of Appeals to a five-year suspended imprisonment term, with eight months already served, for instigation of a crime, the obstruction of public officials, and the unlawful interference in the discharge of public duties, under Articles 28, 504, and 609 of the Penal Code, and for illegal logging under Article 97(6) of the Forestry Law. The Court of Appeals upheld the five and three years’ imprisonment sentences of Mr. Mam Sonando’s co-defendants, Messrs. Kan Sovann and Touch Ream, but also suspended the remainder of their prison terms. Messrs. Kan Sovann and Touch Ream have spent ten months in detention. All three defendants are due to be released tomorrow.

The appeal hearing for Mr. Sonando and his co-defendants was conducted over March 5 and 6, 2013.

“While we welcome the release of Mr. Mam Sonando, we demand that an end be put to any kind of harassment against him and more generally to all human rights defenders in the country ”, FIDH President Souhayr Belhassen said today.

“Today’s verdict in appeal is more evidence of the criminalisation of human rights activities in Cambodia as a way to intimidate critical voices, in particular human rights defenders", OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock deplored. “The charges against Mr. Mam Sonando are baseless and aim at sanctioning his right to freedoms of expression and association.Accordingly, he and his two co-defendants, victims of the authorities’ attempts to silence Mam Sonando, should have been acquitted of all charges”, Gerald Staberock urged.

On October 1, 2012, Mr. Mam Sonando was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10 million riels by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. He was found guilty on charges of "insurrection" and "inciting people to take up arms against the State"under six articles of the Penal Code,in the framework of a long-running land conflict with a private company in Kratie province. The “secession area” in question, located in Kratie province, was, in fact, involved in a long-running land conflict with a private company. In May 2012, hundreds of armed Cambodian forces raided the area, killing a 14-year-old girl in the process. No one has been arrested or prosecuted for her death.

Mr. Sonando was arrested after he reported on Beehive Radio about a complaint lodged at the International Criminal Court (ICC) arguing that land-grabbing in Cambodia amounts to a crime against humanity. The next day, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a public call for his arrest on national television.

On December 14, 2012, the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh delivered its decision not to grant release on bail to Mr. Mam Sonando pending his appeal, on the grounds that his temporary release, even under house arrest, would threaten social order, would be unacceptable due to the seriousness of the case and the length of the sentence, and would put the witnesses who testified against him in danger of harassment.

In a move that further exposes the inconsistencies and outrageousness of the case, on March 6, 2013, the Prosecutor dropped three of the original and most serious charges against Mr. Mam Sonando for "insurrection" and "incitementto take up arms against the State", but requested that the Court charge him with illegal logging under Article 97(6) of the Forestry Law, which carries a sentence of five to ten years in prison. This new charge is vastly inconsistent with the facts and the original allegations against Mr. Mam Sonando.

The Observatory reiterates its call on the Cambodian authorities to conform with international human rights instruments, including with the United Nations (UN) Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998.

For further information, please contact:

FIDH: Arthur Manet / Audrey Couprie: + 33 1 43 55 25 18
OMCT: Delphine Reculeau: + 41 22 809 49 39

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