Police escort Mam Sonando into a car after a court sentenced him to 20 years. (AFP)
Police escort Mam Sonando into a car after a court sentenced him to 20 years. (AFP)

Cambodian court sentences journalist to 20 years

New York, October 1, 2012–Cambodian authorities took a significant step backward on press freedom with today’s harsh verdict against independent journalist Mam Sonando in connection with his coverage of land seizures, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Mam Sonando to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10 million riel (US$2,500) after convicting him on charges of inciting rebellion, news reports said. He will appeal the sentence, his wife, Din Phanara, told reporters.

Mam Sonando owns Beehive Radio, one of Cambodia’s few independent news outlets, which broadcasts critical commentaries, according to news reports. He had reported on human rights abuses related to recent protests in eastern Kratie province that the government characterized as a rebellion. A 14-year-old girl was shot dead when locals resisted a military operation to clear land for a private Russian company, news reports said. Authorities arrested Mam Sonando in July after Prime Minister Hun Sen and other officials accused him of inciting the rebellion, the reports said.

“Today’s harsh verdict against Mam Sonando illustrates authorities’ determination to silence critics of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s administration,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “We call on the appeals court to overturn this unjust ruling, and we urge the government to halt its long-standing persecution of Mam Sonando.”

Mam Sonando was imprisoned on criminal defamation charges in 2005 and inciting crimes in 2003, both in retaliation for his reporting, CPJ research shows.

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