Mam Sonando, owner of Beehive radio station, sent back to Prey Sor prison after Appeal court announced verdict.
Phnom Penh (March 14, 2013) - We, the undersigned civil
society groups, welcome the Court of Appeal's long-overdue decision today to
release independent radio station owner Mam Sonando and his two co-appellants,
Touch Ream and Kan Sovann, but caution that a long road remains to rehabilitate
Cambodia's democracy ahead of National Assembly elections in July.
Sonando, who also heads an NGO known as the Association of
Democrats, was convicted in October 2012 of leading a secession plot against
the Cambodian government and sentenced to 20 years. But following the
Prosecutor's odd request during the appeal hearing, the Court of Appeals today
dropped the secession related charges, and convicted Sonando of illegal logging
under Forestry Law article 97.6. The court also reduced his sentence to five
years, with eight months - or time served - in prison and the rest suspended.
The sentences of co-defendants Kan Sovann and Touch Ream
were upheld at three and five years, respectively, but the remainder of their
sentences were also suspended. They have already spent 10 months in prison.
All three are expected to be released this Friday.
"We welcome the court's decision to release Mam Sonando and
his co defendants, but we cannot say that justice was truly served," said Mr.
Yeng Virak, Executive Director of Community Legal Education Center (CLEC). "They are still convicted men. The convictions are still unsupported by any
evidence and the intimidation effects of this case will linger for years to
Sonando was arrested on July 12 and originally charged with
masterminding a so-called "secessionist movement" in Kratie. The prosecutors
argued that the alleged plot originated in Kratie province's Broma village, and
that villagers had taken up arms against the authorities in an attempt to
create their own nation-state. In fact, the villagers were involved in an ongoing
and escalating land dispute with the company Casotim, which controls a
15,000-hectare land concession nearby.
In May, hundreds of armed government forces stormed the
village and evicted hundreds of residents. A 14-year-old girl, Heng Chantha,
was shot dead by government forces during the operation. Authorities have since
refused to investigate Chantha's death, calling it an accident.
"That is perhaps the greatest injustice regarding the Kratie
events," said Ms. Naly Pilorge, Director of LICADHO. "Mam Sonando and his co
defendants have spent months in prison on fabricated charges, but Heng
Chantha's killer has not spent a single day in prison. The government has not
even investigated the killing."
Although Sonando was accused of masterminding the supposed
secession movement in May, his arrest warrant was not issued until after he
broadcast a report on June 25 from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in
the Hague, Netherlands. The report concerned a filing at the ICC by the Khmer
People Power Movement that accused Cambodian government officials of crimes
against humanity in relation to the country's land conflicts.
Twenty-four hours after the ICC report first aired, the
Prime Minister publicly called for Sonando's arrest.
"The political nature of this case was clear from day one,
and it has only become clearer with the appeal court's verdict," said Mr. Pa
Nguon Teang, Executive Director of CCIM.
Cambodian authorities faced intense international and
domestic pressure to release Sonando after he was convicted in October. Among
those calling for Sonando's release were US President Barack Obama, former
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French Prime
Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. Sonando holds dual French and Cambodian
"The release of Mam Sonando and his co defendants is an
important step toward rehabilitating Cambodia's democracy, but the
international community should note that the leader of the opposition party
remains in exile," said Mr Vorn Pao, President of IDEA. "That issue looms large
for the coming elections."
Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM)
Cambodia's Civil Servants Association (CICA)
Cambodian Food and Service Worker Federation (CFSWF)
Cambodian League for the Promotion & Defense of Human
Cambodian Worker Center for Development (CWCD)
Cambodian Youth Network (CYN)
Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC)
Community Legal Education Center (CLEC)
Equitable Cambodia (EC)
Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF)
Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA)
Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT)
For more information, please contact:
Mr. Yeng Virak, Executive Director of CLEC, 012 801 235
Mr. Am Sam Ath, Technical Monitoring Supervisor of LICADHO,
012 327 770
More photo of Sonando at Pre Sor prison: http://goo.gl/1e0P4