Speaking shortly after the conclusion of Mam Sonando’s appeal hearing on Wednesday, the convicted ringleader of the so-called Kratie secessionist movement called on the court to drop charges against Mam Sonando and his co-accused, who are serving a combined 28 years on insurrection charges.
Bun Ratha, who in October was himself sentenced to 30 years in absentia for allegedly masterminding a separatist movement in remote Pro Ma village, told the Post he had little faith in the legal system but stressed that the claims of secession were falsified.
“I urge the Cambodian legal system to resolve this, either from the municipal court or the Supreme Court. But national and international opinion is the same, that the legal system is under the command of the prime minister,” he added, via Skype, speaking from a secure location after having fled Cambodia with his family shortly after the accusations were levied against him.
In May, government security forces stormed Pro Ma, evicting more than 1,000 families from land that had been locked in a dispute with rubber concessionaire Casotim. After shooting to death a 14-year-old girl in the process, the government claimed the force was necessary to staunch an armed uprising by the followers of Ratha – a local activist and a member of Sonando’s Association of Democrats.
Little evidence, however, has ever been provided to support the secessionist claims – or even to link Ratha with Sonando – and villagers continue to insist Ratha’s only wrongdoing was to educate them on their rights under the Land Law.
Reiterating claims he has made in the past, Ratha said that if justice is not served, he will return to Cambodia and organise a large-scale demonstration.
“We will use our last option: make a huge demonstration in Phnom Penh, close the national roads; deadlock the city to force the court to seek justice,” he said.
“I know I will be arrested if I [go to Cambodia], but I’m delighted to be imprisoned for my supporters,” he said. “In fact, the jail is my home.”