Beehive Radio director Mam Sonando (C) appears at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post
Testimony continued in the case of jailed Beehive Radio director Mam Sonando and his alleged accomplices yesterday at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, with 12 witnesses alternately accusing and absolving the Association of Democrats president and his co-defendants.
About 200 protestors camped outside the court again yesterday, however, despite an omniscient police force, the atmosphere was calmer with protestors singing and chanting peacefully throughout the day.
Unlike the first day of trial, media were allowed inside the court room to observe the proceedings.
Several of the prosecution’s witnesses said that their testimony was based entirely on hearsay, and none had any evidence to offer about the men actually on trial, focusing instead on alleged co-conspirator Bun Ratha, whose whereabouts have been unknown since the fatal May eviction in Kratie province’s Pro Ma village that spurred the charges of “secessionism” in the first place.
The prosecution’s witnesses’ testimony painted a picture of Ratha as the village’s unofficial dictator.
Chea Mom accused him of having set up barriers blocking the road into and out of the village, and having said that he would force travellers to thumbprint a document before passing in order to keep out undesirables.
Mom, however, allowed that she hadn’t actually seen either of those things, saying: “I know from people who told me, but I did not see it by my own eyes.”
In May, Pro Ma was the site of the forced eviction of hundreds of families involved in a long-running land dispute with agro-business company Casotim, during which a 14-year-old girl was shot dead by government forces.
The government called the eviction an “anti-secessionist raid”, despite repeated denials from villagers – including one-time Association of Democrats volunteer Bun Ratha.
Kong Vannak, another prosecution witness who lives in Pro Ma village, said that he moved to Pro Ma just four days before the forced eviction in hopes of getting enough farmland to support his family.
But in order to be allotted land, Ratha had made him man the roadblocks for a day.
“I have no will to against the authorities or the government,” said Vannak, denying his own involvement in the so-called secessionist plot.
“The reason I went to live there was that I just wanted to get the land to support my 11 sons and daughters.”
Song Soun, one of the few witnesses to be summonsed that supported the defendants, said that the tools brought by the prosecution as evidence that Pro Ma was planning an armed rebellion were simply tools that villagers had used for hunting wildlife for years.
For his part, Suon also added that he “never saw Mr Mam Sonando go to Kratie; he was not involved with the plan to establish a secessionist area.”
Witness Hun Sophal, a Kratie member of Sonando’s Association of Democrats, pointed out that Sonando was abroad when the alleged secession took place, prompting prosecutor Meas Chan Piseth to explain that, as ringleader, Sonando didn’t need to show his face to incite rebellion.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]