Officials Urge NGOs to Respect Rule of Law in Sonando Case

As criticism continues to mount over the arrest of outspoken Bee­hive Radio owner Mam Son­ando, a government spokes­man shot back yesterday, accusing NGOs of undermining the country’s rule of law.

“NGOs are not a judge and [the] rule of law reflects from the people,” said Council of Ministers spokes­man Phay Siphan. Mr. Siphan called for “patience,” and urged monitors to “see how the court and the judge do their job” before criticizing the system. “Mam Sonando is innocent until proven guilty. Everyone has to respect that, and they should respect the judicial system,” said Mr. Siphan.

Adding to a growing body of criticism, the International Fed­eration for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organization Against Tor­ture issued a joint statement of con­cern yesterday calling for Mr. Sonando’s release and blasting the Cambodian government.

“The baseless charges against Mam Sonando are the latest ex­amples of the Cambodian government’s tendency to intimidate critical voices, in particular human rights defenders, and [flout] its human rights obligations under the domestic and international law,” said FIDH Deputy Secretary-General Debbie Stothard.

All charges should be dropped, said the groups, and Mr. Son­ando—who is now in pretrial detention in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison—released immediately and unconditionally.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court of­ficials refused to disclose whether they would consider dropping the charges. Mr. Sonando is accused of stoking an insurrection in Kratie province and faces upwards of 20 years in prison if found guilty.

“I’m busy with a hearing,” said investigating Judge Sem Sakola, before hanging up and turning off her phone. Deputy prosecutor Meas Chanpiseth said he had not yet reviewed the case file, “so I can not answer.”

But spokesman for the Ministry of Interior Khieu Sopheak said it was the court’s duty to pursue the case as it saw fit and not bend to the will of outside groups.

“That is their right to do that,” he said of the NGOs’ criticisms, “but the trial is under the court’s duty.”

“How can any country have an arrest warrant and then release?” he asked. “We need to follow the rule of law.”

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