Nine witnesses including two defendants who had previously cut immunity deals with the government — took the stand yesterday to testify against Mam Sonando, the jailed Beehive Radio director and president of the rights-education group Association of Democrats.
Speaking at the hearing, Lou Rabo, a deputy at the Internal Security Department of the Ministry of Interior, said investigations into Sonando’s activities outside Cambodia had revealed meetings in the US and Thailand with America-based dissenter Sourn Serey Ratha, whose Khmer People Power Movement recently filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing the Cambodian government of crimes against humanity.
“I got all the documents on Sourn Serey Ratha through the internet,” Rabo said.
“Mam Sonando got the order from Soun Serey Ratha to establish a secessionist area and topple the government.”
Rabo cited a five-point statement from Serey Ratha, also found online, calling on Cambodians not to respect the legitimacy of the current government.
“These five points can say that they plan to topple the government,” he said.
Speaking with a smile on his face, Sonando said he had met with Serey Ratha in his capacity as a journalist because he had wanted to know more about the policies of the Khmer People Power Movement, in particular whether or not it endorsed violence.
“If Sourn Serey Ratha’s association is going against the government, why doesn’t the Cambodian government write a letter to the US to close his association?” Sonando asked, maintaining that his relationship with Serey Ratha was purely journalistic.
“I went to meet with Sourn Serey Ratha, but we have different ideas.”
The independent radio director and three others faces a handful of charges stemming from his alleged masterminding of a so-called “secessionist plot” in Kratie province’s Pro Ma village, which in May was the site of the fatal eviction of hundreds of families involved in a long-running land dispute with the agro-business company Casotim.
The government called the villagers’ eviction an “anti-secessionist” raid.
Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator for the rights group Licadho who observed the proceedings, emphasised the fact that the police’s investigation of Sonando’s time abroad was simply information garnered from the internet, adding: “If they wanted to know what Mam Sonando said with Sourn Serey Ratha, they should just listen, because he broadcast it publicly.”
Cambodian Centre for Human Rights president Ou Virak, who has attended the entire trial, said in a statement that “Not a shred of evidence has been heard that in any way connects Mam Sonando to this alleged secession attempt in Kratie in May.”
The court proceedings will continue tomorrow.
To contact the reporter on this story: May TItthara at [email protected]