In mid-September 2012, supporters of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (the 'ECCC'), also known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, met at Phnom Penh's Raffles Hotel Le Royal to discuss the tribunal's potential to leave a positive legacy of a strengthened domestic justice system and rule of law in Cambodia. In the same week, at a less hospitable city landmark - the Phnom Penh Municipal Court - the trial of Mam Sonando began. On 1 October 2012, the seventy-one year-old independent radio broadcaster and veteran human-rights campaigner was sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment for allegedly investigating an anti-state rebellion in Pro Ma Village in Cambodia's eastern Kratie Province. The community there had been involved in a long-running land dispute with a powerful rubber company; and during the violent eviction of the community in May 2012, security forces shot dead a fourteen-year-old girl. Her killing was never investigated.
The politically-motivated charges and verdict against Mam Sonando were roundly criticized by independent Cambodian and international human-rights groups, as well as a number of foreign governments. Mam Sonando had no involvement with Pro Ma Village. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court's unbelievable narrative of secession was seemingly used to silence a community involved in a land dispute and to gag a long standing government critic. What is clear to all informed observers is that Mam Sonando is now in prison for no other reason than peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.
Cognizant of the ECCC's mandate to positively impact Cambodia's domestic court system, and hopeful that such a goal is still attainable, we, the undersigned jurists, who care deeply for the future of Cambodia, hereby call for the immediate and unconditional release of Mam Sonando.
Phnom Penh, 21 November 2012
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