Mam Sonando (C) and members of his family are blessed by Buddhist monks at his home in Kandal province after the 71-year-old Beehive Radio director was released from Prey Sar prison on Friday, March 15, 2013. Photograph: Koam Chanrasmey
Association of Democrats President and Beehive Radio director Mam Sonando is no stranger to walking out of prison. He was jailed once in 2003 for his alleged involvement in riots that led to the burning of the Thai Embassy, and again in 2005 for reporting on criticism of a border treaty between Vietnam and Cambodia.
Most recently, and famously, the 71-year-old was jailed for his alleged involvement in a so-called secessionist plot in Kratie province’s Pro Ma village, charges that civil society and foreign governments maintained were invented to silence a critic and obscure the violent evictions of villagers there, which resulted in the shooting death of a 14-year-old girl. Sonando was sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined $2,500 for allegedly stoking the insurrection, a sentence that was reduced to five years – much of which was suspended – when the most serious charges were either dropped or changed during his appeal hearing last Thursday. Post reporter May Titthara sat down with Sonando at his villa in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district just after his release from prison on Friday.
How do you feel after being released from jail?
We all must have freedom, and since I returned from my visits to the States and France, I had no time to clarify [the charges against me]. I was sent directly to jail, and I spent eight months in jail before I was released; but the freedom I was given is small. Being in jail is a problem. It is a pain. Even though the freedom I have is restricted, I will enlarge that freedom, because we are loyal to people, the nation, the fatherland, and we want our country to respect the rule of law, respect human rights with justice for all Cambodian people.
You said you have less freedom. Could you tell us how your freedom is diminished?
It is only a little freedom because the Court of Appeal sentenced me to five years, [and suspended everything] but eight months in jail. So I have to ask permission if I want to go anywhere. If I do anything that is not suitable, they can accuse me and put me in jail again.
The Appeal Court convicted you on charges of forest crimes, not insurrection. What do you thinks of this accusation, since the government had already given an economic land concession to a private company in that area?
I oppose it, because I have done nothing, and Kratie is a province that I have never been to at all, and I do not have any wish to destroy any forest. But the law is one thing, and the court’s implementation is another.
As a result, there is a problem . . . The evidence was not suitable at all to put me in jail, but I cannot say whether the court is just unjust.
For the new charges, will you file a motion of complaint to the Supreme Court?
I will discuss it with my lawyers, but if we do not do anything, it doesn’t mean that we accept the charges as accused.
What do you think of this issue? Is it political or legal?
I have not said it whether it was political or legal, and I cannot say whether it is just or unjust. What I want to say is that I have done nothing, and that all the witnesses were illiterate people and only briefly came by my office without an appointment, and then became witnesses against me... This is a problem that pains me. Being jailed is another, but when one hasn’t done what they’re accused of, it is very painful.
I also heard Samdech Hun Sen say that being maligned without having done anything badly pains him. Me too; I have not done anything, and I am also pained. If I do anything, I will take responsibility, and be brave enough to take responsibility.
Are there any conditions on your release?
No, because they know well that I am not playing politics like other people. What I do is [work] so our country can have justice, respect for people’s human rights and a strong democracy.
I have never thought of having any power or exploitation. I don’t like these at all. I say the facts, and because of the facts, they accused me of arrogance, but I am not. I told the truth.
Please do not think I am affiliated with any party. I don’t like any parties, but I also don’t hate any political parties.
Were you happy when you were released?
I am not happy. I am worried instead. Do I have freedom if everyone does not have it? I have to fix this for people.