Last Updated: Friday, 11 July 2014, 13:14 GMT

Cambodia: Independent radio station Director sentenced to 20 years in prison

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 2 October 2012
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Cambodia: Independent radio station Director sentenced to 20 years in prison, 2 October 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/5073cbf55.html [accessed 12 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Last Update 2 October 2012

Paris-Geneva, October 2, 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), strongly condemns the conviction and harsh sentencing of 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 an outspoken critic of the Government's human rights record, including serious and systematic violations of land and housing rights.

Yesterday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Mam Sonando guilty on charges of insurrection and inciting people to take up arms against the state under six articles under the Penal Code[1] and sentenced him to 20 years' imprisonment and a fine of 10 million riels. On July 16, 2012, he was formally charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Nine other co-defendants were also found guilty and sentenced to between 2 to 30 years' imprisonment and fines. The Court suspended the prison sentences of five co-defendants who had confessed. The co-defendants are all villagers from an area in Kratie province which has been embroiled in a long-running land conflict with a private company.

Throughout the trial from September 11 to 14, the government dispatched hundreds of police to block off the roads leading to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to prevent Mr. Sonando's supporters from gathering in front of the court. This heavy police presence also curtailed the presence of international trial observers. Security guards removed an FIDH representative who attempted to observe the trial on the ground that he did not receive an 'admission ticket' to enter.

In his latest report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cambodia, Mr. Surya Subedi, observed that human rights defenders and journalists "continued to encounter harassment, intimidation and the threat of a defamation or incitement lawsuit[2]." Such harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders have intensified in 2012, characterised by arbitrary arrests and detention, judicial harassment, and, in some cases, assassination.

"The conviction and sentencing of Sonando and other Kratie representatives is another major blow to the rule of law in Cambodia", said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH president. "In the continuing absence of credible evidence in Sonando's case, this guilty verdict is also an indictment of the Cambodian judiciary which has all but lost any trace of independence and has become instead a tool of repression of critics and human rights defenders".

"Mam Sonando has been convicted for his legitimate human rights activities. The Appeal Court should reverse this verdict and uphold the respect of the rule of law in Cambodia in accordance to international human rights standards", said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary-General.

Background:

Mr. Sonando is 70-year-old and holds both Cambodian and French citizenships. The Beehive Radio Station which he runs regularly broadcasts reports that are critical of government polices. 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, including the right to vote. Mr. Sonando was arrested on July 15 at his home in Phnom Penh and has been in remand detention since.

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. 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 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.

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.


[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 fifteen years); Article 464 defines the crime of inciting people to take up arms against state authority (punishable by imprisonment from fifteen to thirty 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).

[2] A/HRC/21/63. http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session21/A-HRC-21-63_en.pdf

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