Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Cambodia: Broadcaster sentenced to twenty years

Source: Cambodian Center for Human Rights

(CCHR/IFEX) - Phnom Penh, 1 October 2012 - CCHR condemns in the strongest possible terms the guilty verdict brought against Mam Sonando today at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. He was found guilty of all the charges brought against him - under articles 28, 456, 457, 464, 504 and 609 of the Penal Code 2009 - including instigating an alleged insurrection in Kratie province in May 2012 and inciting people to take up arms against the state authority. He has been sentenced to 20 years in prison and a fine of 10 million riel (approx. US$2,470). Bun Ratha, who is also accused of instigating the same alleged insurrection, was sentenced in absentia to 30 years; two others were sentenced in absentia to 15 years; and three other defendants held in pre-trial detention were handed sentences of ten months, three years and five years. Seven others were handed suspended sentences ranging from ten months to five years.

Over the course of three days of close monitoring of Mam Sonando's trial last month, CCHR heard no evidence that in any way connected Mam Sonando with the May 2012 events in Broma village, Kratie province, or with any of the charges of which he has now been found guilty. Given the lack of evidence, the only rational, reasonable and legal thing the court could have done, as CCHR and many others urged during the trial, would be to acquit Mam Sonando of all charges against him and set him free immediately. Today's events represent a gross travesty of justice - an outrageous violation of Mam Sonando's right to freedom of expression and fair trial rights, including the fundamental right to be deemed innocent until proven guilty.

One of Cambodia's most prominent human rights defenders, 70-year-old Mam Sonando founded Beehive Radio, one of only three independent radio stations in Cambodia which regularly broadcasts reports that are critical of the Royal Government of Cambodia (the "RGC") and its allies. On 25 June 2012 Beehive Radio broadcast a report about a complaint brought to the International Criminal Court accusing the RGC of crimes against humanity. The following day, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for the arrest of Mam Sonando. After returning to Cambodia on 12 July 2012 to answer the charges filed against him, Mam Sonando was arrested at his home on 15 July 2012 in connection with the alleged secession movement in Kratie province during which a 14-year-old girl was shot dead by the military. He said from prison: "Even though I am incarcerated, in my heart I am free . . . I have done nothing wrong, therefore I will not hide."

This verdict comes towards the end of a year which has seen Cambodia's image on human rights take a real battering, with a leading environmental activist shot dead by the military in Koh Kong province in April 2012, female garment factory protestors shot by the city governor in Svay Rieng province, 13 Boeng Kak women sentenced for protesting for their land and housing rights, and whole communities violently evicted from their homes all around the country. Mam Sonando's trial was an opportunity for the Cambodian judiciary to set the record straight on fair trial rights and ensure that Mam Sonando received a fair hearing, in line with Cambodia's domestic and international legal commitments. Tragically, it has misguidedly decided to pass up this opportunity, and has fallen woefully short of its moral and legal obligations, proving that it is not fit for purpose.

CCHR President Ou Virak, attending the verdict today, comments:

"I am outraged and appalled at today's verdict. Not a shred of evidence has been submitted in court that proves any connection between Mam Sonando and these bogus charges. Not only is this verdict a total violation of Mam Sonando's human rights, it is also embarrassingly unsophisticated and brazen. There has been no effort whatsoever to disguise the political interference, and it will be no surprise now if whatever faith Cambodians still had in the judiciary to deliver justice evaporates for good. What's more, the sentence is ridiculous and totally lacking in proportion. 20 years is practically a life sentence in many countries, and a death sentence for a man of 70. At a time when Cambodia should be making amends for the depressing roll call of human rights violations this year, the judiciary has only brought further shame to the country."