A prominent critic of Cambodia's government was sentenced to 20 years in prison yesterday for an alleged secessionist plot, dismaying rights campaigners who decried the verdict as politically motivated.
Radio station owner Mam Sonando was also fined 10 million riel (HK$18,700) by a Phnom Penh court, which convicted him on charges including insurrection and inciting people to take up arms against the state. Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience.
The 71-year-old, who was arrested in July, was accused of involvement in an alleged plot to establish an autonomous region in eastern Kratié province.
Rights groups have called the accusations baseless and said the government was seeking to justify its crackdown on a land dispute there in May, when a teenage girl was shot dead by security forces clashing with protesters.
"Our court has announced a verdict that is politically motivated," the president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, Ou Virak, said. "There's no evidence that Mam Sonando has committed these offences."
Amnesty International researcher Rupert Abbott called the verdict "absolutely outrageous".
Mam Sonando, who heads the campaign group, the Association of Democrats, and whose station broadcasts programmes critical of the government, was jailed for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression, Abbott said. "We consider Mam Sonando to be a prisoner of conscience and will be campaigning for his release," he said.
Several hundred people gathered outside the courthouse in support of Mam Sonando.
As he was led into a waiting vehicle, Mam Sonando told reporters: "I am happy that I have helped the nation."
His wife, Din Phanara, said they would appeal the sentence.
Mam Sonando, owner of the independent Beehive station, was arrested previously in 2003 and 2005 for his political activities and defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen's government.