PHNOM PENH - The owner of Beehive Radio was released from prison on Friday, ending eight months of incarceration.
Mam Sonando told VOA Khmer in an interview his freedom was a small thing, but that he would continue broadcasting news to Cambodians and would continue his work with the Association of Democrats, a civic group he says aims at informing people about rights and democracy. He is not planning on joining any political parties, he said, despite broad support from the public.
On his release from prison Friday, supporters outside the jail called him a “hero.”
“I would like to thank all Cambodian people both inside and outside of the country for their collective efforts to have me freed,” Mam Sonando said. “Although partly free, it’s also freedom. But we have to continue our struggle together to protect freedom and justice and strengthen democracy in our country.”
The Appeals Court on Thursday said it was dropping some of the most serious charges against him, but it gave him a five-year suspended sentence on charges related to deforestation that were added by the prosecutor. His lawyer says he will appeal this new sentence.
His release has not allayed concerns by critics that the Cambodian courts failed to deliver justice in Mam Sonando’s case.
“Putting him in jail for eight months is already unjust because he did not commit anything wrong from the beginning,” said Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party. “He is a democrat and patriot who is struggling for social justice.”
And Mam Sonando must still face the deforestation charge, one that observers say is also founded on scant evidence. Supporters say there is no forest concession in the area he is accused of harming in the new charge.
“The court’s charges, that he incited a secession and committed deforestation are not acceptable to me,” said Chhiem Chhean, a villager from Prey Veng province, outside the prison. “I see those charges as complete injustices.”
Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the courts should investigate the economic concession in Broma village, in Kratie province’s Chhlong district.
“If Mam Sonando was charged with [deforestation], I think the government should investigate the company in Broma village, to see whether the land concession was legal, because if the land was forested, the concession was illegal,” Ou Virak said.