A Change of Guard

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Monday, 17 December 2012

Sonando bail rejection draws rights groups’ ire

By Khouth Sophak Chakrya
Phnom Penh Post 
121217 02
Beehive Radio director Mam Sonando (centre) arrives at the Appeal Court on Friday in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post
Backlash against the Appeal Court decision to deny jailed Beehive Radio director Mam Sonando bail continued over the weekend, with civil society groups calling on the government and Supreme Court to overturn the ruling.
The court’s decision to deny the 72-year-old’s request on the grounds that his dual citizenship made him a flight risk and that his release posed a threat to public order was decried by rights groups as a clear case of government judicial interference.
Licadho technical adviser Am Sam Ath yesterday expressed disappointment at Friday’s decision, saying that he had been optimistic beforehand, given the evidence in Sonando’s favour.
“We think that this decision does not have decent reasoning, and it is based on the political behaviour” of the judge, he said. “However, we called on the appeal court to speed up the case of Mom Sonando for [an appeal] hearing, as well as to decide his case based on the law, events and witnesses.”
On Friday Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said in an interview that though the appeal court rarely reversed decisions, he thought bail might have served as a roundabout way out for Sonando.
“We hoped that maybe the tide had turned a bit and the government and Hun Sen were saying, ‘that’s enough of a crackdown’ . . . but I guess the backwards movement and the repression of human rights continues.”

In a statement released the same day, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee – an alliance of 21 NGOs – said that it was “deeply concerned about the connection between political motivations and the court’s verdict”.
Tith Sothea, a spokesman for the government’s Press and Quick Reaction Unit, said on Friday that rights groups were confused about their roles in society.
“The court has reached a fair judgment, so the question is whether civil society wants to have the court system or not,” he said. “What they are doing is interfering in the task of the defence lawyer.”

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