Din Phanara (C), the wife of Beehive Radio director Mam Sonando, is blessed by monks during a ceremony in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post
A day before Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly called for the arrest of Mam Sonando, the Beehive Radio station director hosted a fiery broadcast from The Hague, where lawyers were trying to launch a case against the premier in the International Criminal Court.
Just under three weeks later, Sonando returned to face the music and he remained free for a few days until, coinciding with departure of foreign dignitaries in town for the ASEAN summit, he was arrested on Sunday.
A spate of charges against Sonando, including insurrection, have been levelled in connection with the so-called secessionist plot allegedly engineered by the Association of Democrats in Kratie that prompted authorities to launch a violent crackdown in May that resulted in the shooting of a 14-year-old girl.
But a coalition of 14 rights groups, including the Cambodian Center for Independent Media and Licahdo, have suggested the arrest had more to do with the fact that his radio guests were openly discussing filing charges against the premier.
American lawyer William Frick, who is assisting the Khmer People Power Movement’s attempts to mount a case against senior Cambodian People’s Party officials for crimes against humanity, told listeners during the Beehive broadcast he believed he had enough evidence.
“Right now, the biggest question is jurisdiction, which is: Will this court find it has the right, the power to decide this case?” Frick said.
“And in the next few months, we will submit more evidence and hope to convince the court that it does have the power to protect the people in Cambodia who are being forced from their homes.”
With the help of Frick and another American lawyer, Christina Phillips, the KPPM submitted a dossier to the ICC that the court acknowledge receipt of on June 22.
Spokesman for the National Police Kirt Chantharith and Council of Minister’s spokesman Phay Siphan declined to comment on the charges being made against CPP officials at the ICC while government lawyer Ky Tech could not be reached for comment.
Cambodia signed onto the ICC in 2002 and the broadcast suggests KPPM is trying to mount a case that senior government officials have committed crimes against humanity through the deportation or forcible transfer of population.
To do so, they would have to convince the court’s prosecutor that forced evictions that happened after 2002 constituted a widespread or systematic attack directed against the civilian population, and produce evidence.
The chances of such a case being accepted are highly unlikely given the ICC is already backed up and already has much more grave cases to focus on.
Regardless, rights groups are suggesting the broadcast worried the prime minister and that the timing raises serious question marks about the belated charges that were levelled against him.
“The laws in Cambodia are what Hun Sen says they are, not what’s written down,” Phil Roberstson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch said yesterday.
“So it’s just classic Cambodian government behaviour. Be nice to everyone while all the international leaders are in town, and as soon as you send them off to Pochentong, it’s back to business, smashing your critics and laying trumped up charges against them.”
Sonando’s lawyer and executive director of the Cambodian Defenders, Sok Sam Oeun, said he was less convinced of the connection with the broadcast, because “the charge and the issue that they raise in court is not relevant. They focus on insurrection at Kratie”.
But he agrees that the timing of the arrest just after “Madame Hillary’s” departure was a little too convenient.