PHNOM PENH - The Cambodian Center for Human Rights has launched a public campaign to put pressure on authorities to release Beehive Radio owner Mam Sonando from prison.
The campaign includes a “justice calendar,” which tracks the number of days he has been in jail, and a postcard design competition for the jailed radio broadcaster.
Mam Sonando has been in jail since his arrest in July, on charges he helped foment a secessionist group in Kratie province. Rights workers have said he was arrested after criticizing Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“The people’s active participation in demanding the release of Mr. Mam Sonando from prison will have an influence on the government's reconsideration of the case,” Ou Virak, head of the center, told VOA Khmer.
The center is inviting the public to submit postcard designs by the end of the month. Ou Virak said 10,000 copies of three designs will be distributed to the public and sent to Mam Sonando in prison, to show support for him.
“So far, everyone has been waiting for the international community and others to help solve Cambodia’s problems, but I think only the people here can push for real democracy and social justice, including justice for Mr. Mam Sonando,” Ou Virak said.
Din Phannara, Mam Sonando’s wife, said the campaign will remind the public that her husband remains in prison, charged with “wrongdoings he did not commit.”
Lao Monghay, an independent political analyst, said Hun Sen’s public demands for the arrest of Mam Sonando make the case political.
“If the case was related to the secession or any crime, samdach prime minister should have been silent, and let the authorities take action together with the court, but the premier instead spoke out before the arrest,” Lao Monghay said.
Mam Sonando was in the US at the time Hun Sen called for his arrest. He returned to Cambodia, knowing he could face charges and willing to face the courts, Lao Monghay said. Had he truly been the leader of a secessionist movement, he would not have returned, Lao Monghay said. “He is one of those rare human beings who would rather die standing up than live on their knees.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said a public campaign for the release of Mam Sonando will do no good. “I would like to see through the courts a complaint against the prime minister that says the prime minister ordered the judges or influenced them on the case,” he said. “That would be good for us all.”
Cambodia’s courts are widely viewed as politically biased and corrupt, and critics say Hun Sen wields heavy influence over the judicial branch and the police. Cambodia is now facing increased criticism of the judicial system, which has time and again sided with powerful business or political interests, jailing critics and government dissenters, including journalists, human rights workers and advocates.
Ou Virak said he hoped the campaign will make the government listen to Mam Sonando’s supporters.
“If many of our Cambodian people want Mr. Mam Sonando released from prison because this case is politically motivated, then I am sure he will be set free,” he said.