Ministry of Information to Meet Sonando As Protests Loom

The Ministry of Information asked Mam Sonando, owner of the independent Beehive Radio station, to meet Friday after repeatedly rejecting a request he has made since 2005 for the expansion of his station’s reach into provincial areas.

Mr. Sonando’s assistant, Huon Pannary, said that Buth Bou Vuth, director-general of the ministry’s visual department, wrote a letter on Thursday asking for Mr. Sonando to meet Friday to discuss his requests for a relay station to get more provincial radio coverage, as well as a television license, the latest of which was rejected on Tuesday.

“We received the letter from the Ministry of Information calling for a meeting with Mam Sonando on Friday, but we have asked for a delay, because Mr. Sonando remains abroad,” Ms. Pannary said, adding that Mr. Sonando is due to return to Cambodia on Thursday and would be available next Friday.

Though the ministry has given licenses for a number of new TV stations in recent years, non-ruling party aligned entities have been told there is “no space” available on the frequency spectrum.

Ms. Pannary warned that Mr. Sonando’s threat to protest in the street outside the Information Ministry will proceed if Minister Khieu Kanharith continues to deny the station’s request to expand coverage. “If we are rejected again, the protests and rallies will be conducted for sure if supporters and people want to,” she said.

Mr. Sonando, an outspoken government critic, was jailed for 20 years in 2012 on charges of inciting a so-called secessionist movement that national and international human rights groups said were trumped up by the government.

He was released last year in the wake of a huge wave of international condemnation.

On Wednesday, Mr. Sonando vowed to defy a government and city ban on protests after informing Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong of his intentions to base a rally at Freedom Park and then march to the Ministry of Information to demand expanded broadcast coverage.

City Hall has held off on issuing a response, which municipal spokesman Long Dimanche said Friday would be easier to make once Mr. Sonando has met with Mr. Bou Vuth, who could not be reached.

“We decided to postpone, since we will give a period of time for the Ministry of Information to meet and discuss with Mr. Sonando first,” he said.

At present, there are a total of 11 television stations, all of which broadcast pro-government material and largely ignore the political opposition or depict them in a negative light. There are also 34 Phnom Penh-based radio stations, 38 provincial-based stations and another 25 radio relay stations, according to ministry statistics. Much like TV, most radio stations are also considered pro-ruling party.

Beehive supporters plan to start rallying on January 27.

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