On 1 October 2012, Mam Sonando, director of Beehive radio and President of the Democratic Association, was found guilty by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court of all charges brought against him, including alleged instigation of a secessionist movement in Kratie province, in the east of Cambodia, and incitement to take up arms. At 71 years of age, the prominent human rights defender has been sentenced to 20 years imprisonment - essentially a death sentence for a man of his age - despite the distinct lack of evidence against him.
The alleged secessionist movement in Kratie involved a dispute over 15 000 hectares (approx. 37,000 acres) of land farmed by villagers, that was granted to a private company. On 16 May 2012 armed police violently confronted the villagers or “secessionists” who were defending their land rights. When police opened fire they tragically killed a 14-year-old girl.
Arrested on 15 July 2012, Mam Sonando was held in detention in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison while awaiting trial, where he suffered from deteriorating health due to sub-standard conditions. His arrest and subsequent conviction are believed to be linked to a broadcast made on Beehive radio on 25 June, accusing the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) of crimes against humanity. The Prime Minister called for his arrest the following day, highlighting the political motivation behind the case, which is yet another attempt by the RGC to intimidate human rights defenders and to stifle free speech.
The verdict has been severely and widely condemned, and was denounced by the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights as a 'travesty of justice and an embarrassment to Cambodia's reputation.' There was absolutely no evidence to link Mam Sonando with the so-called secessionists, or to support any of the charges that he has been found guilty of. His conviction is a violation of his right to freedom of expression and to fair trial. The only reasonable and just response from the court would be to unconditionally release Mam Sonando and to drop all charges.
Mam Sonando returned to Cambodia from abroad after he heard of the charges against him because he is confident in his innocence. He stated from prison: "Even though I am incarcerated, in my heart I am free... I have done nothing wrong, therefore I will not hide."