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Beehive safe, Sonando not

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Supporters of detained Beehive Radio director Mam Sonando gather outside the US Embassy in Phnom Penh on Monday. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly declared yesterday that the government has no plans to shut down Beehive Radio, despite the recent arrest of its director, Mam Sonando, and added that the movement to gather thumbprints for his release would not help his situation.

Speaking at the graduation ceremony for students of the National Education Institute, the premier said that taking action against Beehive Radio itself would be like getting “angry with the oxen, then hitting the ox cart”.

“The radio [station] made no mistake,” he said. “Don’t wonder so much – the radio is not guilty, who would shut it down? The radio owner made a mistake, [that’s why] they wanted to go against the owner.”

Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator for the rights group Adhoc, welcomed the prime minister’s announcement, saying the closure of an independent station like Beehive “would affect freedom of expression and rights to advocacy.”

Chea Bamrong, vice president of Sonando’s Association of Democrats, said that he would accept the prime minister’s words for the time being, but acknowledged that everything could change in an instant, citing the rapid revocation of an early statement from a Council of Ministers spokesman who initially said that Sonando would not be arrested.

Referring to the movement to free Sonando, which recently delivered petitions purportedly thumb-printed by more than 45,000 supporters to multiple foreign embassies on Monday, Hun Sen stated that “the thumbprints don’t have any pressure on the judicial system”.

Hun Sen also alluded to the ever-fluctuating number of Sonando’s alleged co-conspirators wanted by the government, alternately saying that four of the five original suspects had come to confess and serve as witnesses, and that six of the seven accused had confessed.  

He added that alleged ringleader Bun Ratha was still at large, and at one point accused an unnamed NGO of funding yet another suspect’s flight to Thailand.

Longtime fugitives Sok Tong and Bun Chhorn, Ratha’s father, could not be reached for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at titthara.may@phnompenhpost.com

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