NGOs, Unions: Free Two Jailed for Defamation

At a conference on freedom of expression Monday, more than 70 unions and NGOs called on the government to release Mam Son­ando, the jailed owner of Beehive Radio, and Rong Chhun, the president of the Cambodia Independent Teachers’ Association.

“We strongly appeal to the Royal Government of Cambodia to withdraw the complaints and the Mu­nicipal Court to release Mr Mam Son­ando and Mr Rong Chhun, to drop all lawsuits against those who have been charged, and to stop is­suing further arrest warrants,” the groups said in a joint statement.

Mam Sonando was arrested and de­tained Oct 11 after defamation lawsuits were filed against him on behalf of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the National Assembly for broadcasting an interview critical of Hun Sen’s border policies.

Rong Chhun was arrested in Poi­pet on Oct 15 after Hun Sen also fil­ed complaints against him and three other men who had criticized the recent signing of a controversial border supplement with Vietnam.

Officials from the US and Canad­ian embassies also attended the con­ference.

“The recent arrests are part of a trend of erosion of rights and ex­pres­sion in Cambodia,” Mark Stor­ella, US Embassy deputy chief of mis­sion, told reporters.

“These events have contributed to a climate of fear,” he said, adding that the arrests have also shown that the Cambodian judicial system is not independent.

“These actions have weakened hu­man rights in Cambodia,” Stor­ella said. “The use of criminal de­famation charges against the people who speak out on important public policy issues does not support the rule of law,” he added.

Canadian Ambassador Donica Pottie said even though Hun Sen asked the international community not to interfere with what he de­scrib­ed as an “internal affair,” Can­ada will continue monitoring Cam­bodia’s stated commitment to dem­oc­racy.

Government spokesman Khieu Kan­harith defended the arrests and said the government is only pro­tecting itself in its actions against border critics.

“If the government doesn’t re­spond, the government will be com­mitting suicide,” he said. “The government won’t drop the charges and the decision to release them or not is up to the court.”

“This has nothing to do with the freedom of expression,” he added. “It is about incitement. They are us­ing the border issue, which can lead to the staging of a coup.”


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