Protesters demonstrate against Sonando's imprisonment outside an appeals court in Phnom Penh. (AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)

Cambodia reduces jail term of journalist Sonando

March 14, 2013 4:31 PM ET

New York, March 14, 2013--Mam Sonando, a leading independent journalist in Cambodia, is scheduled to be released from prison later this week after an appeals court reduced his 2012 conviction on inciting rebellion to a lesser charge and cut his initial 20-year jail term.

"We are relieved that Mam Sonando does not have to spend the rest of his life behind bars simply for being a journalist," said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "He should never have to go to prison again. With his release, there will be no journalists in prison in the country and Cambodian authorities should ensure that this remains the case."

The conviction stemmed from Sonando's coverage of human rights abuses related to protests last year in eastern Kratie province in which villagers clashed with security forces over a land dispute with a Russian company, according to news reports. Prime Minister Hun Sen and other officials characterized the villagers' actions as a rebellion and subsequently accused Sonando of instigating the discontent, the reports said.

The appeals court in Phnom Penh reduced the charge against Sonando to instigating villagers to destroy state land, news reports said. But the court ruled that the eight months Sonando already spent in prison would be sufficient, the reports said.

Sonando owns Beehive Radio, which broadcasts critical commentaries and is one of the few independent media outlets in Cambodia. Authorities arrested him in July 2012, and in October, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of 10 million riel (US$2,500) on the charge of inciting rebellion. It is unclear if Sonando must still pay the fine.

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

  • For more data and analysis on Cambodia, visit CPJ's Cambodia page.

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