Cambodia: Refusal to release on bail Mr. Mam Sonando

17/12/2012
Urgent Appeal

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Cambodia.

New information
KHM 005 / 1212 / OBS 117
Denial of bail / Ongoing arbitrary detention

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) of the refusal to release on bail Mr. Mam Sonando, Director and owner of the independent FM station 105 (Beehive Radio) and President of the non-governmental organisation Democrats’ Association [1]. Mr. Mam Sonando is an outspoken critic of the Government’s human rights record, including serious and systematic violations of land and housing rights.

According to the information received, 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. At the trial, Mr. Mam Sonando, who is 71 years old and whose health is deteriorating, protested his innocence and insisted that he would be present at his appeal hearing.

The Observatory recalls that on October 1, 2012, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Mr. Mam Sonando to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10 million riels after being found guilty on charges of insurrection and inciting people to take up arms against the State under six articles under the Penal Code, in the framework of a long-running land conflict with a private company in Kratie province [2].

Mr. Sonando’s arrest also followed his reporting over Beehive Radio of a complaint lodged at the International Criminal Court (ICC) arguing that land-grabbing in Cambodia amounts to a crime against humanity. A public call for his arrest was then issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen in a nationwide televised speech the day after the report.

On October 12, 2012, Mr. Mam Sonando filed for appeal of the verdict, but the Municipal Court failed to send the case file to the Appeal Court within the ten days required by law, hence delaying proceedings. Mr. Mam Sonando’s lawyer submitted the bail motion to the Appeal Court on behalf of his client on December 5, 2012. The request was made under Articles 306 and 307 of the Criminal Code of Procedure 2007.

The Observatory reiterates its demand on the Cambodian authorities for the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Mam Sonando, as his detention seems to merely aim at obstructing his human rights activities and appears to be a result of him exercising his right to freedoms of expression and association.

Background information:

Mr. Mam Sonando holds both Cambodian and French citizenships. The Beehive Radio Station, which he runs, regularly broadcasts reports that are critical of government policies.

Mr. Mam Sonando was abroad when the arrest warrant was issued and he returned to Cambodia on July 12, 2012. He was arrested on July 15, 2012 at his home in Phnom Penh and the next day was placed under detention on remand.

The charges against Mr. Sonando 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.

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 critic of the government 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 Radio on June 25. A day later, on June 26, Cambodian 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.

On July 16, 2012, he was formally charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court under six articles under the Penal Code [3]. 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.

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.

Actions requested:

Please write to the Cambodian authorities urging them to:

i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Mam Sonando, as well as of all human rights defenders in Cambodia;

ii. Release Mr. Mam Sonando immediately and unconditionally, since his detention is arbitrary as it only aims at obstructing his human rights activities and appears to be a result of him exercising his right to freedoms of expression and association;

iii. Put an end to acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Mr. Mam Sonando and all human rights defenders in Cambodia;

iv. Comply with all the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular:
- its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,
- its Article 6.a, which states that "everyone has the right individually and in association with others to know, seek, obtain, receive and hold information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including having access to information as to how those rights and freedoms are given effect in domestic legislative, judicial or administrative systems",
- Article 12.1, which foresees that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”,
- and its Article 12.2 which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”

v. Guarantee the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments ratified by Cambodia.

Addresses:

· Mr. Hun Sen, Prime Minister, Office of the Prime Minister, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: +855 23 36 06 66 / 855 23 88 06 24 (c/o Council of Ministers), Email: leewood_phu@nida.gov.kh / cppparty@gmail.com
· Mr. H.E. Ang Vong Vathna, Minister of Justice, No 240, Sothearos Blvd, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: 023 364119. Email: moj@cambodia.gov.kh
· Mr. Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Ministry of Interior, 275 Norodom Blvd, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: + 855 23 212708. Email: moi@interior.gov.kh
· Mr. Hor Nam Hong, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, 161 Preah Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: + 855 23 21 61 44 / + 855 23 21 69 39. Email: mfaicasean@bigpond.com.kh
· Ambassador Mr. Sun Suon, Permanent Mission of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva, Chemin de Taverney 3, Case postale 213, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, Switzerland, Fax: + 41 22 788 77 74. Email: camemb.gva@mfa.gov.kh; cambodge@bluewin.ch

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Cambodia in your respective countries.

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