Accessibility links

Breaking News

Cambodian Activist Pessimistic as Appeal Hearing Begins

Mam Sonando (C), owner of a local independent radio station and land rights campaigner, gestures as he arrives at the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh, March 5, 2013.
WASHINGTON DC - A Cambodian court has begun the appeal hearing of a prominent government critic sentenced to 20 years in prison on insurrection charges.

Mam Sonando, who heads the independent Beehive Radio station, told reporters upon entering the court in Phnom Penh on Tuesday that he is not optimistic about winning the appeal.

Sonando told the court that the charges against him are politically motivated. He said he is being unfairly blamed for unrest triggered by a wave of forced evictions.

Hundreds of Sonando's supporters gathered outside the appeals court Tuesday. One of the protesters, Yim Nou, said the charges should be dropped.

"I want the court to release him. He's a good man. He did nothing wrong," said Yim Nou.

The appeal process is expected to last three days.

The 71-year-old was convicted in October on charges of encouraging villagers to form their own state following a land dispute in eastern Cambodia.

Cambodia has carried out an intensifying series of sometimes violent forced evictions affecting tens of thousands of people. Activists say officials are increasingly cracking down on those who challenge the land grabs.

Sonando's radio station, known as Beehive Radio, has been outspoken on the issue of land rights. It broadcasts material critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia since 1985.

But Sonando says his station was not involved in the unrest, which the government viewed as a rebellion.

Beehive Radio carries programming for both Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.