A Change of Guard

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Monday, 17 December 2012

Cambodia: Mam Sonando sent back to jail

December 17, 2012

On December 14 the Cambodian Court of Appeals decided that Mam Sonando, the owner of the opposition radio station Beehive, will stay in prison after it rejected a first bail request since he was sentenced to 20 years in jail in October. According to his lawyer, the decision will be reconsidered in a month.
Shortly before 10am on Friday, Mam Sonando was escorted by at least 5 policemen in a room where the curtains were shut to avoid cameras. A few minutes earlier, the judge rejected his first bail request since he had been sentenced to 20 years in jail last October. During the hearing that lasted a bit longer than an hour, Mam Sonando said that his health was deteriorating in prison because of the bad conditions he had to endured and asked the judge to believe in his honesty and good judicial record. This was echoed by his lawyer, Sa Sovan, who said that if he were to be released on bail, Mam Sonando would not leave the country nor speak with journalists until his appeal is considered.
The prosecutor argued against Sonando’s release, saying the first judgement should be enough to show Mam Sonando’s guilt. The Court stated that he would not be released on the ground that the risks of influencing witnesses and disrupt public order would be too high. The judge denied him bail pursuant to articles 28, 464, 457, 504 and 609 of the Penal Code, as already brought against him by the municipal court in October.
At the end of the hearing, Rupert Abbott, presenting Amnesty International told EPA that he was “disappointed” by the result. Ou Virak, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights expressed his concerns for freedom of expression in Cambodia: “we are now facing a general attitude by the government to continue to repress criticisms“, he said.
Political prisoner?
While Amnesty International insisted on the fact that Mam Sonando is a “prisoner of conscience”, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia was more hesitant to draw conclusions in this case. During a press conference organized in Phnom Penh in the afternoon of the decision, Professeur Surya Subedi told journalists “this is something I would be very careful with and would come up with a formulation which is suitable in the context of Cambodia. There is no internationally agreed definition of political prisoner. Some proper work is required in this area. I will now be doing so in the future.” 

However, he confided to reporters present in the room that he visited Mam Sonando in prison earlier this week and that he was “concerned from the very beginning for the situation for freedom of expression and other rights in this country“.
I monitored his case and I have intervened with the government at the highest level possible, expressing my serious concerns. I will continue to monitor the situation and continue to point out the obligations of Cambodia to the international law,” he assured.
Small victory
For the first time in the Cambodian jurisprudence history, a first-instance bail request was accepted as valid by the Court of Appeals. “So far, we are very positive for the Court is respecting the game,” said Sa Sovan. After the hearing, he was able to request that the Court of Appeals reconsider the bail. “The fact that it will shows that there are two levels of jurisdiction in this case. We are confident for the rest of the procedure,” he concluded.
The judge stated that there were two main risks to releasing Sonando – on the ground that the court showed proves of his guilt in the first instance and the fact that he owned a the double nationality. Mam Sonando can appeal this decision.

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