Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday lashed out at critics of the Mam Sonando verdict, saying outsiders shouldn’t be seeking the release of a prisoner.
Speaking to hundreds of villagers at a land title ceremony held in Chhuok district of Kampot province, Hun Sen defended the guilty verdict handed down to the radio station owner.
“The verdict is against [him] because of inciting people to oppose the authorities, and [he] has to be cleared,” said Hun Sen.
“I don’t care whatever you are… political party, NGO, military, police or military police general, when you are wrong, you receive the same punishment.”
While NGOs and even foreign governments have been quick to label the case a quashing of freedom of speech, the premier took pains to set the record straight, stressing that Sonando’s verdict has nothing to do with his station.
“We were not shutting down the radio station,” he noted.
On October 1, the owner of Beehive Radio was sentenced to 20 years in prison for masterminding a so-called secessionist plot – a charge roundly dismissed by outside observers. As criticism has mounted, the government has rushed to defend the court, slamming critics who call for a dismissal.
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator at rights group Licadho said it was unsurprising that the verdict generated such outrage, given the perception of the court’s lack of independence.
“People opposed the verdict and are calling for the release of Sonando, because [they know] the issue started from land dispute [not secession],” he said.
Hun Sen also used his speech to advocate on behalf of Preah Vihear villagers embroiled in a dispute with defunct NGO DARPO.
“The Preah Vihear provincial governor has to take a look at the problem [of a person] selling social land concession and put [him in] handcuff,” he said, a day after accepting a petition from villagers from Choam Ksan district seeking his intervention.
“[I don’t care] even if he is oknha, adviser and general,” Hun Sen warned.
The former director of DARPO is Pen Lim, a one-star general with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces who is also an adviser to Senate President Chea Sim.
To contact the reporter on this story: Vong Sokheng at [email protected]