One of the few owners of independent radio in Cambodia has said he will lengthen a visit to the US on fears he could be arrested if he returns to Cambodia.
Mam Sonando, who owns and operates Beehive Radio, told a gathering of Cambodian Buddhists that he had been tipped off the authorities want him for questioning, though he was unaware of any charges against him.
He was given a Buddhist blessing from a monk and a scrap of paper bearing Pali script meant to ward him from danger, as participants donated money to help him.
Cambodian authorities are in the midst of dragnet operations in eastern Cambodia, where they say they are searching for a secessionist movement. They have so far arrested at least seven people and are searching for five others, after violent crashes in Kratie province last week that left a teenage girl shot dead by security forces. Police officials have said they want to question Mam Sonando in relation to the alleged movement.
“I was tipped off that they would arrest me when I get back to Cambodia,” Mam Sonando told the gathering in Virginia on Sunday. “I cannot assure you that it is true. It is a rumor, but it is very reliable. So I must take action to defend myself—to clarify what I do—so they don’t forget I am a journalist.”
“It is not because I am afraid of imprisonment,” he said, adding that he did not want to interfere with his plans to interview a political figure named Suon Sereyratha, who has been accused of incitement for participating in Thai political demonstrations last year. Mam Sonando said he was covering Suon Sereyratha’s non-violent Cambodian People Power Movement.
The radio owner has been imprisoned in Cambodia twice so far, after reporting on the controversial issue of Vietnamese border encroachment and after broadcasting news on the 2003 anti-Thai rioting and looting of the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh.
“When I devoted myself to the nation, I knew that one day I would be arrested or killed,” he said Sunday. “We nationalists must be sure in this determination. Buddha said life is uncertain, but death is certain.”
Tann Vibol, vice president of the US group Cambodian-Americans for Human Rights and Democracy, said he would investigate the possibility of Mam Sonando’s arrest. “I hope the government doesn’t arrest him,” he said. “We will do whatever we can to defend freedom, and journalism especially.”