PHNOM PENH - Amid tight security and crowds of protesters Tuesday, Phnom Penh Municipal Court opened a hearing against Beehive Radio owner Mam Sonando, who is facing charges he tried to lead a secessionist movement against the government.
Mam Sonando, 71, whose Beehive Radio is one of the few independent broadcast media outlets in the country, testified on his own behalf, in a sweeping case with nearly 100 witnesses.
Riot police kept demonstrating supporters about 200 meters away from the court, as it began the highly charged hearing. Many of the demonstrators came from the Association of Democrats. Others were ousted residents the Boeung Kak and Borei Keila development projects.
“Please free Mam Sonando,” Long Sarouen, 52, a member of the Association of Democrats, said. “I pity him. It is unjust.”
Mam Sonando, who was arrested in Phnom Penh in mid-July, arrived wearing a white shirt and a tie. He has denied the charges against him and said he will testify truly in court. He was led into the courtroom in handcuffs. Media were not allowed in the courtroom.
The court is expected to hear from 86 witnesses in the case. Mam Sonando was charged alongside eight other suspects similarly charged.
Rights workers say the charges have little support, and that a violent clash between villagers in Kratie province and security forces in May was due to a land protest, not a secessionist movement.
The government accuses Mam Sonando of colluding with another man, Bun Ratha, in the alleged plot.
Din Phanara, Mam Sonando’s wife, described to VOA Khmer her husband’s testimony in court. Mam Sonando told the court he did not know Bun Ratha personally, she said. Bun Ratha, who has since fled the country, was administrative staff for the Association of Democrats, but he had never met Mam Sonando. Bun Ratha was paid about $60 per month for his work, which included producing ID cards for members of the association.
Mam Sonando’s defense attorney, Sok Sam Oeun, said no concrete evidence was shown to the court Tuesday. Witnesses for the defense told the court the Association of Democrats was involved in charity work, not a separatist plot.