Washington - Mam Sonando, the owner of Beehive Radio who was jailed for eight months and recently released, says he will continue to operate his radio station and airing stories on sensitive issues, despite the prospect of more incarceration.
Mam Sonando was arrested and jailed in July 2012 and released in March, on a suspended sentence by an Appeal Court decision. He has been jailed on three separate occasions, after broadcasting on sensitive issues like government corruption and land grabs.
His Beehive Radio is one of the few remaining independent broadcasters in Cambodia and airs programming from the Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, Radio France International and others.
In studio interviews at the Voice of America in Washington Monday, Mam Sonando said his radio station maintains its independence.
“We are not under any political party’s arm,” Mam Sonando told “Hello VOA.” “We have a clear target, which is to protect the freedom of expression, making sure that people are able to have access to news on Beehive Radio, a station that is independent and promotes democracy in Cambodia.”
Mam Sonando took questions Monday by phone from the audience in Cambodia and through Facebook. He’s pictured here with the radio call-in program host, Men Kimseng. (Im Sothearith / VOA Khmer)
Mam Sonando said the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party must change its own tactics and stop giving in to intimidation by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and to stand up for the rights of the people.
The CPP uses what he calls a “banging on the table” tactic to intimidate the opposition, he said, which responds by “hiding under the table.”
“When the government does things that are unlawful, we have to hold a demonstration, but not violently,” he said. “We have to hold demonstrations within the framework of the constitution. We don’t need to beat others; we’d rather let others beat us. We’d rather go to jail and let them shoot at us, so that we can achieve our goals. Once we’ve achieved our goals, then we can help people who suffer from abuses of their rights and lack of democracy.”
Mam Sonando expressed doubt over the fairness of the upcoming national elections in July. That’s in part due to the National Election Committee, he said.
The NEC is under intense criticism for what many see as flawed election regulations that are biased to the ruling party, charges the election body denies. Opposition groups, Western donors and the UN have called for its reform—but such a move has faced strong resistance from the government.
“The NEC has never done its job successfully, which results in post-election disagreements after every election,” Mam Sonando said. “Therefore, it should be replaced.”
The Cambodian government, meanwhile, has proven resistant to changes suggested by the UN, especially its special human rights envoy. The current envoy, Surya Subedi, received a cold reception on a visit last week, where he was chastised following a meeting with a senior government official and chided by students aligned with the ruling party following a university discussion.
Mam Sonando said he was “ashamed” of such resistance to the UN representative, who is tasked with reporting on the country’s rights environment to the UN Human Rights Council, under the 1991 Peace Accords. The government continues to reject such reports.
“If the government or Prime Minister Hun Sen does not want Surya Subedi to disturb them anymore, it’s easy,” he said. “We just have to withdraw our membership to the UN.”
Cambodia continues to see growing division, he said. “I keep wondering, if such a regime continues to exist, what benefit does it bring the Cambodian people,” he said.
And joining with the regime is not a good option, he said.
“Once we become a member of the Cambodian People’s Party, they split us up,” he said. “Even my own siblings dare not talk to me.”