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Wednesday, September 12, 2012Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF

Trial begins for alleged 'secessionist' Mam Sonando

Beehive Radio Director Mam Sonando stands inside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Phnom Penh Post

Throngs of protesters gathered at the Olympic Stadium yesterday, at times straining against a mix of police force barriers and riot shields in their effort to show support for jailed Beehive Radio director Mam Sonando, whose trial was beginning just down the street at Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

Sonando, 70 – along with co-defendants Kan Sovan, aka Chan Sovann; Touch Siem, aka Touch Rin; and Phoin Sroeurn – is faced with a handful of charges stemming from his alleged masterminding of a so-called secessionist plot in Kratie province, amid ongoing calls for his release from opposition politicians and rights organisations who maintain that the charges against him are unfounded.
Five other defendants are also currently on the docket – Phoin Phal, Heng Soeurn, Mao Veasna, Khat Saroeurn and Ma Chhang – despite having been promised immunity in exchange for their testimony.
A few minutes after Sonando’s trial began, press were pushed from the courtroom, where the case continued to be heard over a 10-hour period yesterday.

Sonando, who is also the president of the rights group Association of Democrats, was the first witness to be questioned.
“I am not involved with the plan to establish an autonomous area in Kratie province’s Pro Ma village, Chhlong district; I don’t know anything about that,” he said, noting that he wouldn’t even recognise alleged co-conspirator Bun Ratha’s face, before the courtroom doors were closed.
In May, Pro Ma was the site of the forced eviction of hundreds of families involved in a long-running land dispute with agro-business company Casotim. A 14-year-old girl was shot dead by government forces during a villager protest.
The government called the eviction an “anti-secessionist raid”, despite repeated claims from villagers – including one-time Association of Democrats volunteer Bun Ratha – that they were simply applying for land titles.
Yesterday’s only witnesses were the nine accused, and as testimony continued behind closed doors. Other witnesses and the defendants’ family members milled around outside the courtroom where “Free Mam Sonando. Stop the Violence” T-shirts were being distributed in abundance.
In addition to the 300-plus protesters who turned out to support Sonando, a who’s who of rights workers, activists, opposition politicians and NGO staffers were circulating through the crowds outside the court.
Activist monk Luon Savath filmed the proceedings, and SRP parliamentarian Mu Sochua led the crowd in chants and songs. Even a contingent of Boeung Kak protesters lent their voices to the protest.
The demonstration turned ugly for a few moments early in the day as a wave of demonstrators – with Sochua at its head, chanting – swelled past the barriers erected at one end of Monireth Boulevard, breaking against a line of riot police three officers deep.
Protesters joined police in a head-on scrum that left children who were caught in the melee bawling, and several protesters with bruises and bloodied shins – injuries they sustained, they said, when police began punching and kicking them through gaps in their shields.
The crush of protesters eventually broke through the line, and settled behind a new line of barricades established by the police, who agreed to cede several metres of territory after a quick consultation from a representative from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.



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