Since the Beehive Radio station resumed its broadcasts after a two-week absence, longtime callers known for their vocal opposition to the government have been censored more than usual, officials said Tuesday.
“Since [Mam Sonando] started broadcasting, callers haven’t dared to criticize government officials’ bad actions freely like before, ”said Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association. “Instead, they ask only about the Beehive founder’s health.”
Callers have begun calling Cambodia’s political system a “Prey Sar democracy,” referring to the Phnom Penh prison. But other than prompting that slight, Mam Sonando’s arrest has made callers fearful of exercising free speech, he said.
Mam Sonando was jailed on charges stemming from the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots. He was later released on bail.
“There will be an obstacle to the democratic process if people are scared to speak,” Rong Chhun said, adding that private citizens are key to holding government officials accountable and to developing a transparent political system.
Kem Sokha, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said Tuesday that people should not be afraid to express their opinions on the radio.
“People’s freedom of expression is their understanding. They can express [themselves],” Kem Sokha said.
He urged callers to speak up, arguing that the government cannot arrest people or Beehive officials for sharing their opinions. Kem Sokha warned, however, that station officials should take care not to broadcast false information, a punishable offense.
Kem Sokha said he feared that Mam Sonando, shaken by his incarceration in Prey Sar prison, would encourage callers not to criticize the government.
“If he does that, the program will be weakened,” Kem Sokha said.
Mam Sonando said he also thought listeners were more timid than before he was imprisoned. “Sooner or later, I hope that my listeners will dare to express their opinion through my radio station,” he said.
The Center for Social Development’s Chea Vannath said the government should support Beehive in its drive to voice the public’s opinions.
“A country where people can’t express their opinion is an authoritarian country,” Chea Vannath said.
Ministry of Information Secretary of State Khieu Kanharith said the government does not make a habit of prohibiting people from speaking their mind.
“People can express their opinion, but they have to keep their dignity in speaking,” Khieu Kanharith said.
Mam Sonando said Tuesday that he would sue unidentified police officers who arrested him on Jan 30, allegedly without a warrant.
“It is a very cruel act. [Police] look down on human beings. They arrested me without a warrant and put me in a car traveling everywhere,” Mam Sonando said. He added that he would ask Prime Minister Hun Sen to intervene in the case and arrest the officers.
Khieu Kanharith defended the police officers, saying that they only called on Mam Sonando without a warrant to question him about his involvement in the riots.
“He doesn’t know the law. Please ask him to study more the law before he says something,” he said.