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Alleged 'secessionist' faces 15 years

Mam Sonando (C), Beehive Radio director and president of the Association of Democrats, flashes the peace sign at Phnom Penh Municipal Court before being taken to Prey Sar prison yesterday. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Beehive radio station director and accused “secessionist” Mam Sonando was sent to Prey Sar prison yesterday, where he will be detained until his trial on formal criminal charges including insurrection, a conviction that alone could result in up to 15 years behind bars.

After two and a half hours of questioning by investigating judge Sem Sakola, Sonando, the alleged mastermind of a so-called secessionist plot in Kratie province, was escorted by court guards from the court building directly to a police car for immediate transportation to Cambodia’s most notorious prison.

“I have not done anything at all. This charge – they charge as they think,” Sonando called out to supporters, observers and journalists who were waiting outside the closed-door questioning.

Sonando, who serves as president of the Association of Democrats, also asked his wife, Din Phanara, to not worry about him and to continue broadcasting on his radio station.

Investigating judge Sakola could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Sonando’s lawyer, Sok Sam Oeun, president of the Cambodian Defenders Project, told the Post that his requests for bail or for his client to be kept in provisional jail – a less crowded and safer prison – were all denied.

The four charges levied against Sonando are for plotting against civil servants, insurrection, interference in the fulfilment of public duties and inciting people to use weapons against authorities.

Sam Oeun claimed that the judge was focused largely on the insurrection charge.

“The judge is mainly investigating the one offence, the charge of insurrection. If the court finds that [Sonando] is involved in insurrection, he would be jailed for 15 years,” he pointed out.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, who waited outside the court yesterday, called the imprisonment of Sonando in Prey Sar “disgraceful for Cambodia”.

“We know Sonando does not wish to flee, because he returned from abroad to Cambodia. Prey Sar is for convicts, not someone who has only been accused,” Virak said.

“As I see it, the government seems afraid of its own shadow. The issue of shooting a 14-year-old girl to death in Kratie, [the government] should have a proper investigation of that and avoid pretext and putting the blame on another one to distract the public’s feelings,” he added.

Nationwide, civil society groups joined together in calling for Sonando’s immediate release from Prey Sar.

The arrest and detention of Sonando was a clear “threat” to those who criticised the government’s policies, rights group Adhoc said, additionally highlighting Prime Minister Hun Sen’s prior and extra-judicial, public accusation and condemnation of what the premier called a “secession plot” he intimated was masterminded by Sonando.

To contact the reporter on this story: Meas Sokchea at sokchea.meas@phnompenhpost.com
With assistance from Bridget Di Certo

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