20 years in prison

 for journalist

On 1 October, the Phnom Penh municipal court sentenced journalist and human rights defender Mam Sonando to a 20-year prison term on spurious charges. The verdict followed a three-day trial last month, which failed to present any credible evidence in support of the allegations against him.

- Mam Sonando has done nothing but run a radio station and peacefully advocate for human rights. He should walk free, said Brittis Edman, Southeast Asia Programme Director at Civil Rights Defenders.

The case against him revolves around a land dispute in a poor, rural village in Kratie Province. The land dispute came to a head on 16 May, when hundreds of armed forces surrounded the village and used violence to evict the residents, killing a teenager. Villagers had organized opposition to what they view as land grabbing. But the authorities accused Mam Sonando and 13 other defendants of devising a plot to secede from Cambodia. The 71-year old Mam Sonando was arrested on 15 July, accused of masterminding the plot.

The Court sentences another 13 suspects in the case. Three of them were tried in absentia and received between 15 and 30 years in prison. The others received up to five years in prison. Those who had confessed or implicated others received suspended prison sentences.

Mam Sonando is the leader and owner of FM105 (Beehive Radio), one of very few independent radio stations in the country. He is widely popular, as he gives voice to marginalised groups, to other independent media, and to opposition parties. Mam Sonando has been an outspoken critic of human rights abuses, and he was arrested twice before over radio broadcasts. His supporters have been protesting outside the Court together with people from the community, media and NGOs.

- This is a serious blow to freedom of expression in Cambodia and it must serve as a wake-up call for the international community, said Brittis Edman.

Less than a year before the country’s next general election, there are fears one of few remaining alternative voices has been silenced. Cambodia’s development partners need to publicly condemn this verdict and remind Cambodia of its obligations under international law. They must also ensure that international aid to the country strengthens democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Cambodia.

In December 2010, a new Penal Code entered into force in Cambodia. The Code has several provisions that restrict freedom of expression, including of the media. Provisions about incitement and criticism against the courts or the court system make it risky for journalists to report on legal affairs, and for human rights defenders to pursue their work.

Categories: News.
Tags: Freedom of expression, Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, and Mam Sonando.
Regions: Cambodia.