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Criticism of Sonando verdict blasted by government

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Beehive Radio director Mam Sonando attempts to speak to reporters after his sentencing hearing in Phnom Penh last week. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

In a bluntly worded statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has shot back at critics of the Mam Sonando verdict, stressing that there were no political motivations to the case and accusing “outsiders” of trying to pressure a sovereign court.

“Mr. Mam Sonando is the mastermind of the secessionist movement, as some key witnesses have testified against him before the court,” reads a spokesman statement dated Friday and issued in response to “adverse reactions”.

“[I]t is easy and tempting for outsiders to make sweeping unsubstantiated statements on the case of Mr. Mam Sonando. Those statements have attempted to influence the Court of Law in Cambodia, which undermines the independence and impartiality of the Court,” it continues.

On October 1, the independent radio station owner was found guilty on insurrection charges and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Over the course of a week, the reaction from rights groups, media watchdogs, opposition leaders, and foreign governments has been swift and damning.

Officials from the US, France and European Union offered unusually critical statements, some calling for swift appeals, while others asked for the conviction to be dropped outright.

While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said such calls amounted to political interference, rights workers said it was a farce to pretend the courts operated any differently.

“They always call for intervention from the premier because the court is biased and a tool exploited by the powerful and well off,” pointed out Am Sam Ath, senior investigator at rights group Licadho, adding that the government should heed calls for reform of the less-than-independent court system.

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

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