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CAMBODIA: Journalist Mam Sonando sentenced to twenty years; health concerns.

Monday 1 October 2012 - 1:00am

1 October 2012

RAN 37/12

The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International is shocked by the twenty-year sentence handed down to prominent journalist and human rights defender Mam Sonando. PEN believes Mam Sonando is targeted solely for exercising his universally-guaranteed right to freedom of expression, and demands his immediate and unconditional release. It is also seriously concerned at reports that Mam Sonando is in poor health in prison, and seeks assurances that he is given full access to all necessary medical care as a matter of urgency.

On 1 October 2012 the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found journalist, human rights activist, and director of the independent Beehive Radio Station Mam Sonando guilty of anti-state offences including instigating “insurrection” and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. He is accused of inciting villagers in Kratie province in northeastern Cambodia to protest a government order to seize land in the village and transfer it to a private holding company. There are about 1000 families in the village. A teenage girl was shot dead by security forces during that protest. Mr. Mom Sonando has never been to Kratie province and does not know any of the villagers, and was abroad in France when the protest took place. No evidence was provided to support the charges, and Mam Sonando is believed to be targeted for his vocal criticism of forced evictions and "land grabs" in Cambodia. He has been jailed twice previously for speaking out against the increasingly common practice of appropriating property in Cambodia.

The case against Mam Sonando stems from a speech made by Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on 26 June 2012, in which he accused Mam Sonando and members of the Association of Democrats of being behind a plot for Pro Ma village in Kratie province to secede from Cambodia. Hun Sen’s speech came soon after Beehive Radio broadcast a report about a complaint lodged in June 2012 at the International Criminal Court that accuses Cambodia’s government of committing crimes against humanity by displacing thousands of people through forced evictions. On 15 July 2012, Mam Sonando was arrested at his home in Phnom Penh on charges of insurrection.

Mr. Mam Sonando's conviction comes amid rising concerns over the climate for freedom of expression in Cambodia, where government critics are the target of intimidation and harassment and often accused of being members of opposition parties, and where at least 10 writers, journalists, and activists have been killed since the 1990s and many more have been forced into exile. In addition, several writers have been prosecuted under criminal defamation laws aimed at silencing government critics, and a climate of impunity prevails. In this environment, Mr. Mam Sonando has been a brave defender of the right of all Cambodians to freedom of expression. Beehive Radio is one of just two independent media stations that have programs that allow individuals from all walks of life to raise their voices and express their concerns about their lives and their country. The imprisonment of Mr. Mam Sonando is likely to have a chilling on independent media in Cambodia and further shrink the space where Cambodia's citizens can participate in discussions and debates about policies and issues that affect their lives.

Mr. Mam Sonando, who is 71 years old, has reportedly contracted a serious respiratory infection in prison, and there are serious concerns about his health.

Send appeals immediately:
Protesting the heavy sentence handed down to Mr. Mam Sonando and demanding his immediate and unconditional release, in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights;

Expressing concerns about his health, and seeking assurances that he is given full access to all necessary medical care as a matter of urgency;

Expressing alarm about the intimidation of critical voices in Cambodia and calling on the government to take affirmative steps to protect the right of writers, journalists, and all Cambodian citizens to full freedom of expression.

Send appeals to:
Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen
Office of the Prime Minister
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Fax: + 855 23 360 666
Email: cppparty@gmail.com

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country

**Please contact the PEN WiPC office in London if sending appeals after 31 October 2012**

For further information please contact Cathy McCann at International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: cathy.mccann@pen-international.org