WASHINGTON DC - Following his release from prison on Friday, Beehive Radio owner Mam Sonando told “Hello VOA” in Phnom Penh he will continue to work to clear his name.
The Appeals Court ordered his release last week, dropping several serious charges against him related to sedition, and releasing him from a 20-year prison sentence handed down by a lower court. He still faces charges related to deforestation that he says are suspect.
Because of his detention, he said, Cambodia missed a rare opportunity for more substantive talks with US President Barack Obama and other senior officials during a major international summit in Phnom Penh in November.
Many rights groups had said he was charged with helping foment a secessionist movement only after publicly criticized Prime Minister Hun Sen. In a short meeting in November, Obama told Hun Sen the US wants Cambodia free of political prisoners.
US Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh told VOA Khmer the jailing of Mam Sonando showed a need for Cambodia’s judicial process to be fair, transparent and politically independent, and that it abide by international norms for the rule of law.
In a wide-ranging discussion Friday, Mam Sonando, whose Beehive Radio carries Voice of America programming, among others, said he is glad to be out of prison.
“But not happy, because I still keep wondering why they imprisoned me,” he said. “For those who commit nothing, but end up in jail, like me, it is a bitter experience.”
Mam Sonando said he did not regret returning to Cambodia from a trip to the US when charges were made against him. “I regret that it affected my reputation,” he said. “But if I look back I would still return to Cambodia to face the court there. I am a Khmer citizen. I support Khmer law, and the Khmer court needed to decide my guilt.”
Mam Sonando, who also leads a civic organization called the Association of Democrats, said he had no plans to take part in politics.
He said he was still unsure why he was released by the Appeals Court.
“I just think that if President Barack Obama protected me, as well as the French prime minister, the European Union, Australia, and some other countries, I’m curious—if I’m a bad guy, why would they protect me?” he said. “They protected me because I’m a good person. If other nations dare to protect me, why was it that we, Khmers, imprisoned me?”