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Beehive Radio Owner Arrested on Sedition Charges

Mam Sonando, director of the independent Beehive radio station.
Mam Sonando, director of the independent Beehive radio station.

WASHINGTON, DC - Cambodian police have arrested the owner of one of Cambodia’s last independent radio stations on charges relating to sedition.

Mam Sonando, the owner of Beehive Radio, was seized in his Phnom Penh home Sunday morning, just three days after arriving in Cambodia from a trip abroad.

Police say he has been leading a secessionist movement and inciting people against the government with his organization, called the Association of Democrats, in the eastern province of Kratie.

“More than 20 police officers pushed their way into the house and walked up toward Mam Sonando’s bedroom,” Hourn Phanary, the deputy secretary-general of the association, told VOA Khmer by phone just after the arrest. “They read out a court warrant and escorted him into a waiting truck and drove him away.”

National police spokesman Keat Chantharith said authorities were acting under orders from the Kratie provincial court and were holding Mam Sonando at the Ministry of Interior.

“He is suspected of being the mastermind in acts against public officials, illegal rioting in interference of authorities as they perform public work, inciting people to illegally arm themselves and acting against authorities as stated in a number of articles in the penal code,” Keat Chantharith told VOA Khmer.

Family members say they expect Mam Sonando to appear at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen in a public speech last month called for Mam Sonando’s arrest, after authorities led a brutal crackdown against rioting villagers in Kratie who were protesting in land dispute in May. At least four people were arrested following that operation, during which government security forces shot and killed a 14-year-old girl. Officials have claimed it was an accident.

In a recent interview with VOA Khmer, Mam Sonando said he had no knowledge of a secessionist movement and would defend his innocence in a Cambodian court.

“He is not involved with the alleged secessionists in Kratie,” Hourn Phanary said. “I would urge the government to show its evidence if they say he is behind the movement.”

Sunday’s arrest marks the third time Mam Sonando has been arrested by the Cambodian government. He was jailed in 2005 in the past for broadcasting news and opinion related to alleged border encroachment by Vietnam, a sensitive political issue in Cambodia. He also jailed after broadcasting news of anti-Thai rioting in 2003.

His Beehive Radio station, which broadcasts on 105 FM in the capital, carries programing by the Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and local opposition and minor political parties, in a broadcast environment that is dominated by the Hun Sen government and its supporters.

There were no immediate impacts on his broadcasts as of Monday morning in Cambodia.