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Cambodia court sentences rights activist to 20 years in prison

A prominent Cambodian radio broadcaster and rights activist was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment on Monday after being convicted of insurrection and inciting rebellion against the state. Mam Sonando, 71, runs the independent Beehive radio station and has been an outspoken critic of the Cambodian government [AFP report]. He was arrested in July on accusations of being involved in a plot to incite villagers in eastern Kratie to rebel against the Cambodian government in an effort to establish an autonomous region in the province. The court held that Sonando had been instrumental in inciting villagers [BBC report] in May to form their own state in the eastern province. An additional 13 people were convicted on similar indictments. Rights groups have denounced the charges and Sonando's supporters say he is being persecuted for criticizing the government [Reuters report]. Several hundred people assembled outside the court in support of the rights activist as his sentence was being handed down. The Phnom Penh [official website] court also fined Sonando 10 million riel (USD $2,500). His wife has indicated that he plans to appeal the sentence.

Cambodia's government has a turbulent history. Last month the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website] released the former "First Lady" of the Khmer Rouge [JURIST news archive] regime, Ieng Thirith. The court ruled that she should be released due her degenerative illness, said to likely be Alzheimer's. Thirith, the sister-in-law of former leader Pol Pot [BBC backgrounder], has always denied any wrongdoing. The ECCC has only convicted one former Khmer Rouge leader, Kaing Guek Eav [JURIST news archive]. Earlier in September the ECCC announced that it would declassify more than 1,700 war crimes documents [JURIST report] in efforts toward more convictions. Ieng Thirith was indicted [JURIST report] in September 2010 along with Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea. The ECCC ruled in November that Ieng Thirith was unfit to stand trial, but the Supreme Court Chamber ordered that she remain in detention [JURIST reports] and that the Trial Chamber exhaust all measures so that she can stand trial.

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