The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International is shocked by the twenty-year sentence handed down to prominent journalist and human rights defender Mam Sonando. PEN believes Mam Sonando is targeted solely for exercising his universally-guaranteed right to freedom of expression, and demands his immediate and unconditional release. The organization is also seriously concerned at reports that Mam Sonando is in poor health in prison, and seeks assurances that he is given full access to all necessary medical care as a matter of urgency.
On October 1, 2012, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found journalist, human rights activist, and director of the independent Beehive Radio Station Mam Sonando guilty of anti-state offenses, including instigating “insurrection,” and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. He is accused of inciting villagers in Kratie province in northeastern Cambodia to protest a government order to seize land in the village and transfer it to a private holding company. There are about 1,000 families in the village. A teenage girl was shot dead by security forces during that protest. Mr. Sonando has never been to Kratie province and does not know any of the villagers, and was abroad in France when the protest took place. No evidence was provided to support the charges, and Mam Sonando is believed to be targeted for his vocal criticism of forced evictions and “land grabs” in Cambodia. He has been jailed twice previously for speaking out against the increasingly common practice of appropriating property in Cambodia.
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Mr. Mam Sonando’s conviction comes amid rising concerns over the climate for freedom of expression in Cambodia, where government critics are the target of intimidation and harassment and often accused of being members of opposition parties, and where at least 10 writers, journalists, and activists have been killed since the 1990s and many more have been forced into exile. In addition, several writers have been prosecuted under criminal defamation laws aimed at silencing government critics, and a climate of impunity prevails. In this environment, Mr. Mam Sonando has been a brave defender of the right of all Cambodians to freedom of expression.
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Mr. Mam Sonando, who is 71 years old, has reportedly contracted a serious respiratory infection in prison, and there are serious concerns about his health.
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