Human rights campaigners on Tuesday called for the release of a Cambodian radio station owner and prominent government critic who faces up to 30 years in prison for an alleged secessionist plot.
Mam Sonando, owner of the independent Beehive station, was arrested on Sunday on charges including insurrection, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, and inciting people to take up weapons against state, his lawyer Sok Sam Oeun told AFP.
He has been accused of masterminding a plot to establish an autonomous region in eastern Kratie province, the scene of violent land rights protests. A teenage girl was shot dead there in May when security forces clashed with demonstrators.
Sonando, the 71-year-old president of campaign group the Association of Democrats, has dismissed the accusations.
If convicted on all charges he could face a maximum of 30 years in prison, according to his lawyer.
He was arrested previously in 2003 and 2005 for his political activities and defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
The 60-year-old strongman has ruled Cambodia since 1985 and has vowed to remain in power until he is 90 years old.
Sonando’s detention came just two days after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton concluded an official visit to Cambodia. He was placed in pretrial detention on Monday afternoon, according to his lawyer.
“Sonando’s arrest on the heels of Clinton’s visit is a brazen signal that Hun Sen thinks that the US wants his cooperation on other matters so much that he isn’t afraid to lower the boom on his critics,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch.
The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 22 local rights groups, also urged the authorities to immediately free Sonando so as “to save the country’s reputation”, saying his arrest lacked legal grounds.
Activists say land conflicts are Cambodia’s most pressing human rights issue. Protests have intensified this year and campaigners say the authorities are increasingly cracking down on dissent.