With Mam Sonando in jail on charges related to sedition, rights advocates say they worry his Beehive Radio station, one of the few independent stations in the country, will be forced to close.
Broadcasts on 105 FM have not ended since his arrest in mid-July, but Am Sam Ath, chief monitor for the rights group Licadho, said it could be shuttered in Mam Sonando is found guilty of leading a secessionist movement against the government.
Mam Sonando has denied the charges against him, and rights groups say there is little evidence showing he was involved in any such movement.
Beehive broadcasts programming from the Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, Radio France International and smaller political parties not aligned with the government.
Prior to his arrest, Mam Sonando had been reporting on a US-based advocacy group called the Cambodian Action Committee for Justice and Equity, which had planned to file a complaint of human rights abuses by Prime Minister Hun Sen in the International Criminal Court at the Hague. Mam Sonando has also been deeply critical of the government in past remarks.
“If it is found that his crimes are related to his radio station, I think it could lead to the closure of the station,” Am Sam Ath said. “This matter affects the freedom of the press.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said it is too early to speculate on what might happen to Mam Sonando, or his station.
Chan Saveth, chief monitor for the rights group Adhoc, said there was cause for concern on the future of the station, which could see its license revoked.
In the past, government officials have warned media companies not to be in involved in politics, or face fines, revoked licenses, or closure of their radio or TV stations. Beehive was suspended in 2005, when Mam Sonando was arrested after reporting on a controversial and politically volatile border treaty between Cambodian and Vietnam, which some Cambodians said ceded Cambodian land to its eastern neighbor.
Din Phanara, Mam Sonando’s wife, said Beehive is currently operating as normal, except it does not have the voice of her husband, who typically gives weekly broadcasts on democracy, non-violence, rights awareness and news. “Now in his absence, no such voice exists,” she said. “It’s only normal news.”
Sok Sam Oeun, Mam Sonando’s attorney, said he will request bail next week.
Meanwhile, Chea Bomrong, vice president of the Association of Democrats, a group headed by Mam Sonando, said he received a threatening phone message to leave the group or face a similar arrest.
“You will be the same as Mam Sonando,” says the message, which was in English and came from an overseas phone number.