Mam Sonando Says Protest Will Proceed, But He Won’t Lead

Independent radio station owner Mam Sonando said he would not lead a banned protest he had planned for today outside Information Ministry headquarters in Phnom Penh, but would attend if his supporters went ahead with the demonstration on their own.

“I will not lead [the protest] because I was not allowed by City Hall,” Mr. Sonando said. “But I will just join with the people who demand their rights and freedom of information.”

“The current leaders cannot oppress us and accuse us of committing a crime if we only protest for freedom and the right to information,” he added.

Last week, Mr. Sonando said today’s planned protest would go ahead, although his request to hold the event was rejected by City Hall, which cited the government’s standing ban on demonstrations.

Mr. Sonando had called for the protest after the Information Ministry once again rejected his application earlier this year for a TV license and relay stations to push his Beehive Radio broadcasts further into the provinces. As one of the few independent voices on the radio, the outspoken government critic says the decision was purely political.

His last protest outside the ministry in late January was baton-charged by military police in full riot gear, leaving some of the participants bloodied and bruised.

Mr. Sonando said he had no idea how many people were likely to show up today.

Mom Vanna said she and 20 neighbors had made the trip from their village in Kompong Cham province to Phnom Penh on Sunday to take part in the demonstration.

“I am not worried about joining the protest because I am not doing anything wrong. Even though we are not allowed, we will go ahead,” the 54-year-old rice farmer said.

“I hope we will get independent and accurate news. We want the Khmer people to wake up and not be ignorant. Their lives will be stuck in a deep well of trouble if they can’t get true news.”

Ms. Vanna said she did not know what time the protest would start. And despite Mr. Sonando’s claim not to be leading or organizing the event, Ms. Vanna said she was waiting on his instructions.

Brigadier General Kheng Tito, spokesman for the National Military Police, said the security forces would be ready to disperse any protest on orders from City Hall.

“If we get the order, we will disperse it,” he said. “We will implement the order; our forces are ready.”

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said that he was too busy to comment.

The Interior Ministry has been rejecting Mr. Sonando’s request for a relay station since 2005 and for a TV license since 2010, each time claiming a lack of available frequencies. According to the government’s own records, however, the ministry has approved several such licenses in the past three years alone.

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