Reporters Without Borders and the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media are appalled by the 20-year jail sentence that a Phnom Penh court passed today on Radio Beehive owner Mam Sonando for allegedly inciting unrest in the southeastern province of Kratie in mid-May.
Aged 71, the independent radio station’s owner will be 91 when he completes the sentence.
"Freedom of expression and media freedom are in danger in Cambodia," the two organizations said. "We call on the authorities to release Mam Sonando at once and to quash this conviction on charges for which there is no evidence."
Sonando, who was previously arrested in 2003 and 2005 for allegedly defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen, was found guilty of "insurrection" and "inciting the use of arms against the state" in connection with a supposed uprising in Kratie with the aim of creating "a state within the state."
A Kratie provincial court issued a warrant for Sonando’s arrest on 2 July, six days after the prime minister called for his arrest in a speech. Sonando was out of the country during the unrest because he had gone to meet with Cambodian activists who had filed a complaint before the International Criminal Court accusing Hun Sen of human rights violations.
Hun Sen’s public call for his arrest came the day after Radio Beehive broadcast a report about the ICC complaint.
Reporters Without Borders and the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media are very concerned for the future of journalists and human rights defenders in Cambodia, especially in the wake of other incidents in the past month.
The journalist Hang Serei Oudom was found murdered in mid-September after implicating local officials in illegal trafficking in timber, while the journalist Ek Sokunthy and his wife told the Phnom Penh Post on 26 September that they had been attacked by a former police officer and two other men for no apparent reason.
Cambodia is ranked 117th out of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.