A bail hearing in the case of Beehive Radio owner Mam Sonando will be examined by the Court of Appeals in the Cambodian capital tomorrow. It is the first application heard for his release since he has been sentenced to a 20-year jail sentence on October 1, 2012 by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

Mam Sonando

Mam Sonando. Pic: AP.

71-year-old Sonando was charged with fomenting a secessionist movement in Kratie province and was arrested in July. The sentence was heavily criticized by human rights groups at national and international levels. Mam Sonando’s case has become one of the most famous in the country. As such, newly re-elected US president Barack Obama asked Cambodian Prime Minster Hun Sen  for his immediate release in a bilateral meeting during his historical visit to Cambodia for the summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations and the East Asia Summit on November 19.

A new defense lawyer

Lawyer Sa Sovan took over the case after Mam Sonando was sentenced and will conduct the appeal. No date has been set yet although the case moved to the Court at the end of November.  A former defense co-lawyer for Khieu Samphan from July 2008 to November 2011 in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, Dr. Sa wants his strategy to remain discrete to benefit the case as much as possible.

Licadho, a local NGO defending human rights, published a report on attacks and threats against human rights defenders in the past two years in the light of the international human rights day on December 10.

Recent threats and attacks against HRDs have been overwhelmingly targeted at four main groups: community representatives entangled in land disputes; factory workers and union leaders; NGOs and NGO staff; and journalists“, stated Licadho in its press release. The organisation also identified the fact that the courts rarely issue written verdicts or substantive official justifications for the convictions as an emerging trend.

The UN  asks for improvements on freedom of expression

Mam Sonando was visited by Dr Surya Subedi, the United-Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia on December 11, according to his supporters. In an interview given to Voice of Democracy (VOD) on December 11, Dr. Subedi insisted that freedom of expression needed to be improved in the country. He told Cambodian radio: “There have been achievements in some areas. For example, the controversial NGO law is being reviewed, Boeng Kak Lake disputes are being taken into account and a land titling program is under way.

However, there is not enough progress on freedom of expression, land rights and independence of the judiciary. My mandate is to follow up and offer my help to the Cambodian government for my recommendations to be implemented.”

The day before, the European Union’s Ambassador to Cambodia urged the authorities to take Dr. Subedi’s recommendations into account. On September 25, the UN Special Rapporteur issued a report in which he states “criminalization of land activists and human rights defenders is particularly worrying, as freedom of expression and assembly is crucial to a well-functioning democratic society“. No mention of Mam Sonando’s case appears in  the report dedicated to economic and other land concessions in Cambodia.