A Cambodian court jailed a 71-year-old radio broadcaster and land-rights campaigner for 20 years yesterday after finding him guilty of leading an anti-state rebellion, a verdict condemned by activists as the latest crackdown on human rights.
Three judges in the Phnom Penh court convicted Sonando, who has joint Cambodian-French citizenship, and 13 others of inciting villagers in Kratie Province to rebel against the government.
Sonando, a long-time rights campaigner and critic of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, stood accused of inciting villagers to take up arms and of aiming to recruit up to 1 million people to topple the government.
Hun Sen urged in a nationally broadcast speech in June that Sonando be arrested for masterminding “a plot to overthrow the government and attempting to establish a state within a state.”
Sonando, the head of Beehive Radio, had pleaded not guilty.
The number of land disputes in Cambodia has exploded in recent years as the economy grows rapidly and companies move to exploit natural resources, such as rubber, sugar and minerals.
Human rights groups have accused Hun Sen’s authoritarian government of riding roughshod over land rights by granting huge economic land concessions to companies and then evicting land-dwellers by force.
The World Bank froze new lending for Cambodia last year and said it would not resume loans until the government did something to help hundreds of families facing eviction from land around a lake in Phnom Penh.
Sonando’s supporters say he was persecuted for criticizing the government. He raised a victory sign as he was led, handcuffed, to a prison van after the verdict, saying he was “proud.”
Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak said that the court had not produced any evidence that would support a guilty verdict.
“I am really disappointed that after many decades, our court is not a respectable institution that can find justice for people,” he said. “I see that the verdict was written by politicians.”
The court sentenced two other defendants to 30 and 15 years in jail in absentia.
“Today’s verdict only serves to demonstrate, yet again, that the courts in Cambodia have been increasingly used as a tool for repression,” the International Federation for Human Rights said in a statement.
The UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur for Cambodia said last week that Cambodia’s population was growing “increasingly desperate and unhappy” over land-rights abuses.
In recent months, one of Cambodia’s leading environmental campaigners was shot dead and a journalist who wrote about land issues was found dead in the trunk of a car.
In Kratie Province, a 14-year-old girl was killed in May, when security forces fired on villagers whom Sonando was found guilty of assisting.
‘CONFESSED’: A court in Beijing said that former CCP member Ren Zhiqiang abused his power at a state firm and embezzled almost US$7.14 million of public funds A Chinese tycoon who called Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) a clown and criticized his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was yesterday jailed for 18 years for corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds. Ren Zhiqiang (任志強) — once among the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) inner circle — disappeared from the public eye in March, shortly after penning an essay that lambasted Xi’s pandemic response. His outspokenness had earned the former chairman of state-owned property developer Huayuan Group the nickname “Big Cannon.” Yesterday’s verdict said that Ren embezzled almost 50 million yuan (US$7.4 million) of public funds and accepted bribes worth 1.25 million
OFF BORDER ISLAND: The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel wearing a life jacket and leaving behind his shoes, indicating an intentional move, Seoul said North Korean soldiers shot dead a suspected South Korean defector at sea and burned his body as a COVID-19 precaution after he was interrogated in the water over several hours, Seoul military officials said yesterday. It is the first killing of a South Korean citizen by North Korean forces for a decade, and comes with Pyongyang at high alert over the COVID-19 pandemic and inter-Korean relations at a standstill. The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel near the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Monday, the official said. More than 24 hours later, North Korean forces located him in their waters and
The scarcity of commercial flights landing at Sydney Airport has been a disaster for airlines and workers, but for hobby pilots the COVID-19 pandemic has provided the opportunity of a lifetime. The quieter-than-usual runways mean that private pilots have been given the chance to land at the international airport for the first time. When Sydney Flight College club captain Tim Lindley put out a call, he received an overwhelming response. He eventually organized for 14 light aircraft to fly into Sydney airport on Sunday. “For a lot of the pilots involved, including myself, it was a childhood dream to land in a big
China on Thursday lashed out at the US at a high-level UN meeting over its criticism on the COVID-19 pandemic, with its envoy declaring, “Enough is enough.” Two days after US President Donald Trump used his annual address to the General Assembly to attack China’s record, US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft, also took an outraged tone — after which her Chinese counterpart showed palpable anger. “I must say, enough is enough. You have created enough troubles for the world already,” Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun (張軍) told a Security Council meeting on global governance attended through videoconference