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Appeals Court Considers Case of Beehive Radio Owner

Mam Sonando, center, a local radio station owner, is escorted by court security personnel as he arrives at appeals court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Hundreds of supporters on Tuesday gathered to demand the release of Mam Sonando, one of Cambodia’s most prominent human rights defenders, who was sentenced in Oct. 2012 to 20 years in prison on insurrection charges.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
PHNOM PENH - The Cambodian Court of Appeals on Monday began a hearing in the case of jailed Beehive Radio owner Mam Sonando, as hundreds of supporters gathered outside the court demanding his release.

Mam Sonando is serving a 20-year prison sentence on charges he helped foment a secessionist movement in Kratie province, charges that rights workers say have little evidence and were leveled at him after his public criticism of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Beehive Radio broadcasts programming from the Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and other international agencies. The United States and others have called for Mam Sonando’s release.

Mam Sonando, who is 71, said outside the court that he has lost more than 15 pounds, or about 8 kilograms, in prison. He appeared thinner as he entered the court Tuesday, waving victory signs with his fingers. He was brought into the hearing with two supporters, similarly charged, Touch Rem and Kan Sovan.

During the hearing, Mam Sonando told the court he had established the Association of Democrats legally and taught members respect for the law and the constitution. He was not establishing a secessionist movement and was not trying to topple the government, he said.

After Monday’s hearing, Am Sam Ath, an investigator for the rights group Licadho, said no evidence was produced to support charges that Mam Sonando sought to establish a secessionist zone in Kampong Donrey district, Kratie province, as accused. The hearing is scheduled to continue Wednesday.

Mam Sonando said following the hearing he hopes the Appeals Court will “bring me justice.”

Defense lawyer Sar Sovan said Mam Sonando was not involved with another plot suspect, Bun Ratha, who fled the country in the wake of a government crackdown in Kratie province in May 2011.

Authorities say they were seeking to dismantle the alleged secessionists, but observers say they were in fact breaking up demonstrations by villagers in a local land dispute.