An independent United Nations human rights expert today welcomed news of the release of a Cambodian journalist, whose arrest supporters say was politically motivated, and called for respect for freedom of expression ahead of the country’s general elections in July.
“I have followed the case of Mam Sonando closely, and I visited him in prison last December to hear his own views on the process. The link between the prosecution of Mam Sonando and freedom of expression in Cambodia is of concern to me,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi.
The Cambodian Court of Appeal agreed on 14 March that there was no evidence to support many of the charges against Mr. Sonando, a journalist who ran the Beehive radio station.
He was arrested in October 2012 and charged with inciting rebellion in relation to deadly clashes between Government troops and villagers in the eastern province of Kratie in May.
The Court also shortened sentences against Kan Sovann and Touch Ream, who are expected to be released shortly.
“Some of the significant defects in the original trial, which were highlighted by some of my interlocutors with whom I met during my last mission to the Kingdom in December 2012, were remedied on appeal,” Mr. Subedi said.
The Special Rapporteur added, however, that he regretted the introduction of new charges and convictions “with no opportunity for the accused to prepare their defence.”
The rulings come as Cambodia enters an electoral period ahead of the National Assembly elections on 28 July.
“Genuine freedom of expression is essential to any well-functioning democratic society,” Mr. Subedi said, urging the Government, civil society, the UN and donors to be vigilant in promoting and protecting the right to freedom of expression and opinion.
Independent experts are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.