Detained Cambodian radio station chief Mam Sonando's health is deteriorating and he has asked the authorities to allow him to undergo medical treatment out of prison, according to opposition party lawmakers who visited him Friday.
Mam Sonando, the director of Beehive Radio, is also worried about the future of his independent radio station without him at the helm, the lawmakers from the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) said after visiting him at Prey Sar prison.
He told the visitors that he had been suffering from acute diarrhea and breathing difficulties in detention. He has been held since July 15 pending his trial on charges that he had orchestrated a takeover by villagers of disputed land in May.
“His health in deteriorating, he is exhausted ... He is eating unhygienic food,” SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said.
She said he had sought medical treatment outside of prison but was not sure if the authorities would agree to the request.
"He does not look good. His face is swollen. He said he has had very severe diarrhea and difficulty breathing," another source who visited him said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The source said Mam Sonando, who is in his 60s, had not received any response from the prison chief over his request for having medical treatment outside the prison.
"Still, he joked that he was thinking of wearing a tie to receive such honorable visitors and couldn't because it would make breathing more difficult," the source said.
But Mam Sonando's main worry is the future of his popular radio station.
"He said that if he was to stay in jail [for a longer period], the station will be in danger. He started to cry when he talked about the future of the radio station and about his wife who has to shoulder so many things," the source said.
Lawmaker Mu Sochua said fellow legislators and nongovernmental organizations were raising necessary funding to keep the radio afloat.
“We want the radio station to continue its broadcast and be [even more effective],” she said. "Millions of people are relying on the radio and now the radio director is in prison. Where is freedom of expression?"
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this month rejected charges that Mam Sonando's arrest was aimed at closing down his station, a frequent source of broadcasts critical of the government.
The government, he said, has no plans to shut down the station, also known as FM station 105.
“You can’t say we are trying to get rid of someone, and we won’t do anything to affect the radio station,” Hun Sen said. “There is nothing wrong with the station itself, but its owner broke the law,” he said.
Beehive Radio is one of few media outlets in Cambodia airing independent news, including coverage of opposition and minority political parties, and carries programming by RFA.
Human rights groups have protested Mam Sonando's arrest, calling it politically motivated.
Mam Sonando on Friday rejected government claims he was "creating a state within a state," saying he was not involved in any such movement.
"He said he barely survives running the independent radio station. He neither has time or resources to lead such a movement," said the source who visited him.
The government has accused Mam Sonando, who also heads Association of Democrats, a rights group, of orchestrating a mass occupation of land in Broma village in Kratie province’s Chhlong district that triggered a security crackdown and bloody clashes in May.
The clashes occurred after some 1,000 village families refused a government order to vacate state land they had used for farming and which activists said had been awarded as a concession to Russian firm Casotim, which plans to set up a rubber plantation.
The Association of Democrats has been accused of sparking the land revolt and the ensuing clashes in which in an innocent teenage girl was fatally shot by security forces.
On Friday, more than 300 supporters of Mam Sonando and association members gathered at a pagoda near the prison to pray for his good health and his release from prison.
Mam Sonando has been arrested twice before.
In 2003, he was arrested and charged with giving "false" information and inciting people to "discriminate" and "commit crimes."
In 2005, he was held and charged with defamation over a radio interview that elicited criticism of Hun Sen's Cambodian border control issues with Vietnam.
Reported by Vuthy Huot for RFA's Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.