The US-based Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called on the government to release Beehive Radio owner Mam Sonando and drop all secessionist charges against him.
Mam Sonando, 70, was arrested Sunday in Phnom Penh and has been charged with crimes related to sedition, for allegedly running a secessionist movement in the eastern province of Kratie.
The arrest came just days after a state visit from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“Sonando’s arrest on the heels of Clinton’s visit is a brazen signal that Hun Sen thinks that the US wants his cooperation on other matters so much that he isn’t afraid to lower the boom on his critics,” Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch’s Asia director, said in a statement.
Beehive Radio carries programming by Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, Radio France International and a number of smaller political parties.
Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior, said Mam Sonando was arrested under the law and would not be released without going through a trial. “We have to wait for the legal proceedings,” he said, adding that the government has witness accounts to corroborate its charges against him.
Rights groups have said Mam Sonando has been unjustly accused, following a crackdown on villagers who were protesting in a land dispute in May. Government officials say Mam Sonando’s Association of Democrats was behind that protest and other acts that amounted to an attempt to create a state within a state.
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In its own statement Tuesday, the Overseas Press Club of Cambodia said it was concerned the arrest was an attack on freedoms of speech and the press.
“The government has linked the most serious charge–that of insurrection–to the violent eviction of villagers in Kratie province earlier this year during which a 14-year-old girl was shot dead by the authorities,” the group said. “The allegation that the villagers were trying to secede has been widely ridiculed as a fabrication, and there is consequently little reason to see the related charge against Mam Sonando in any other light.”
Mam Sonando’s wife, Din Phanara, said Tuesday she had been allowed to see her husband in detention, describing his condition as “healthy and still courageous.”