As lawers and court officials put the finishing touches on preparations for the three-day Appeal Court hearing of the case of independent radio station owner Mam Sonando, which starts this morning, hundreds of his supporters began streaming toward Phnom Penh yesterday.
More than 1,000 people are expected to turn up in support of the imprisoned broadcaster, said Association of Democrats Secretary-General Huon Pannary. By yesterday afternoon, several hundred had arrived in Kampong Thom province, from where they planned to depart, en masse, this morning.
“The numbers depend on [Tuesday] morning. Maybe [the authorities] are going to stop them [from entering Phnom Penh],” said Pannary,
In October, the Beehive radio director was sentenced to 20 years in prison on insurrection charges, which have been roundly dismissed as spurious. Sonando stands accused of stoking a secessionist movement in Kratie province – a justification authorities used to evict hundreds of families in an April raid that left a 14-year-old girl dead.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court trial took three days and included dozens of testimonies, but rights groups pointed out that nothing in the way of credible evidence was presented.
In a statement released yesterday, Amnesty International called the sentence “inexplicable and baseless” and urged the court to overturn the lower court ruling.
Though hesitant to make any predictions, defence lawyer Sam Sokong said he was trying to remain optimistic.
“If we look back to the judgment from the Phnom Penh court, I think the judgment still has many mistakes. I hope that the Appeal Court will review all the evidence, all the documents. I hope that the Appeal Court will proceed with the hearing with a fair trial,” he said.
The 71-year-old Sonando, for his part, was the picture of calm and confidence yesterday, said Sokong shortly after visiting him in Prey Sar prison.
“He told me he still believes [he will be released], because he is not guilty. He still believes justice will be provided for him.”