PHNOM PENH: A jailed Cambodian broadcaster regarded as a prisoner of conscience by human rights groups was denied bail on Friday, as concerns grow about attacks on freedom of expression in the country. The director of Cambodia's Beehive Radio, Mam Sonando, 71, was jailed for 20 years in October in connection with an alleged secessionist plot.
Mam Sonando, also president of Cambodia's Democrat Association, was found guilty of charges that included instigating a secessionist movement and inciting people to take up arms, according to the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
Activists say he was imprisoned because his station regularly broadcasts reports critical of the government, presents the opposition's point of view and provides a forum for people to raise human rights and development concerns.
Representatives from Amnesty International and the Cambodian rights group called him a "prisoner of conscience" on Friday after a hearing where observers said a request for bail prior to an appeal was rejected.
"We believe that he is imprisoned purely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression," said Amnesty International's Rupert Abbott. "We are calling for his immediate and unconditional release."
The UN's special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, Surya Subedi, said he was "concerned" about Mam Sonando's situation and has "intervened at the highest level possible".
Subedi said that a number of other incidences of intimidation and harassment of people working in the media and human rights advocacy had been reported to him.
"Excessive use of the law on 'incitement' (charges) seems to be forcing people into self-censorship," he told reporters in Phnom Penh.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said that Mam Sonando's case was not related to freedom of expression and said it was "okay for anyone to say anything" in Cambodia.
Mam Sonando flashed a peace sign to reporters as he entered the Appeals Court in Phnom Penh.
A group of supporters clutching pictures of the broadcaster gathered in nearby streets, many of which had been blocked off by riot police. Some wept openly as news of the bail rejection spread.