SEAPA condemns detention of Cambodian radio journalist

13 October 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEPA)

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) has condemned the detention of Mam Sonando, director and owner of Phnom Penh’s popular Beehive Radio (FM 105 MHZ ) station, and called for the immediate dropping of a criminal defamation suit slapped against him for allegedly defaming Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sun.

“SEAPA joins the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists (CAPJ) and other local human rights groups in calling on Cambodian authorities to immediately release Sonando from their custody.”

CAPJ reports that Mr. Sonando, 64, is currently being held at the Preysor Detention Center outside of Phnom Penh. He was questioned for two hours at Phnom Penh Municipality Court on 11 October.

Court officials said Sonando was charged with defaming Hun Sen under Article 63 of the UNTAC Criminal Code. Under this law, he could be detained for up to six months pending trial, with no opportunity for posting bail. If convicted, the broadcaster could face up to one year imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 10 million riel (about US$2,400).

The charge brought against Sonando stems from his interview with Sean Pengser, director of the Border Committee in France, about Cambodia’s 1985 border treaty with Vietnam. In the interview, aired on Beehive station on 20 September, Sean Pengser suggested that the treaty allowed Vietnam to control Cambodian lands.

The government took exception to the report, believing it was aimed at embarassing Hun Sen on the eve of an official visit to Vietnam. The Cambodian leader went there on 10 October to sign on a supplementary treaty to the two country’s 1985 border agreement.

On 11 October, police arrested Sonando at his house in Kean Svay. Information Minister Khieu Khanarith said that the arrest was justified because the journalist had a one-sided report on the sensitive issue.

Sonando told the local and foreign media before being taken in custody that he did not mean to insult or embarrass Hun Sen. He added that had wanted to interview the prime minister when he returned from his trip to Vietnam.

Sonando is the third journalist to face lawsuits from Cambodian authorities in recent months. The escalation of such threats is creating climate conducive to self-censorship in the local press community.

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