Bangkok, July 17, 2012--Cambodian authorities should immediately release Mam Sonando, one of the country's leading critical journalists, who has been held since Sunday on anti-state charges, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
More than 20 officers arrested Mam Sonando, owner, director, and political commentator of Beehive Radio, one of Cambodia's few independent news outlets, at his home in Phnom Penh, the capital, according to news reports. Police questioned him for more than two hours on Monday, and then lodged anti-state charges against him that included insurrection, news reports said. Mam Sonando could face up to 14 years in prison, the reports said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and other government officials accused Mam Sonando of orchestrating recent protests in Kratie province in which villagers clashed with security forces over a land dispute with a private Russian company, according to news reports. Tensions surged in May when a 14-year-old girl was killed during a military operation to clear the land for foreign development, reports said. Beehive Radio frequently airs reports on human rights-related issues, including what it called a recent surge in the state-backed seizure of land across the country.
The journalist was denied bail and is being held in Phnom Penh's notoriously overcrowded Prey Sar Prison, according to news reports citing his lawyer.
"Prime Minister Hun Sen has a well-worn history of leveling unsubstantiated anti-state charges against journalists to stifle criticism of the administration," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "The insurrection charges fit a disturbing retaliatory pattern, and authorities must drop them immediately."
Police detained Mam Sonando just days after the conclusion of the high-profile Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Phnom Penh, according to news reports. By Sunday, most top foreign dignitaries and members of the international press had left the country, the reports said.
This marks the third time Mam Sonando has been imprisoned for his reporting, according to CPJ research. In 2005, he was jailed for three months after Hun Sen filed criminal defamation charges against him over a Beehive Radio broadcast on territorial concessions the government planned to make to Vietnam. In 2003, the journalist was jailed after being charged with inciting riots after broadcasting news of the anti-Thai rioting in Phnom Penh.
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