Cambodian activist Mam Sonando says his radio station which has been critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s administration may run our of funds and risks closure following new government restrictions and a refusal to allow the station to expand its broadcast range.
Mam Sonado said the Ministry of Information is restricting overseas groups from buying airtime at Beehive Radio, an independent and popular broadcasting radio station in Phnom Penh, and had turned down requests to set up relay stations to beam to the provinces.
He said one client from the United States wanted to buy airtime with the station recently but the ministry refused to allow the purchase.
The government has continually turned down requests by Mam Sonando to set up relay stations to expand its network to the provinces, he said, adding that the move was another blow to potential revenue.
Millions of listeners in the villages want to listen to his radio broadcasts, said the 71-year-old Mam Sonando, expressing concern his station may be forced to close down due to funding problems.
“The future of Beehive Radio station is bleak,” he told RFA's Khmer Service in Washington.
Freedom of information
Mam Sonando, who was released from prison three months ago after a court quashed his conviction for alleged involvement in a secession plot, slammed the government for what he termed curtailing freedom of information.
“It is difficult in Cambodia to say that this country has free access to information and freedom of expression,” he said, accusing the government of "abusing its power" by not allowing his station to expand coverage in the interest of its listeners.
Mam Sonando, the founder of Beehive Radio and president of Cambodia’s Democrats Association, an active nongovernmental organization, said the government has also refused to allow him to transfer ownership of his licence.
This prevents him from finding a possible co-owner to inject additional funding to keep the station functioning and denies him of any prospect of handing over the station to other individuals.
He said opposition political parties have been buying airtime at his station to deliver their messages to the people ahead of national elections next month.
Mam Sonando said he is concerned that the election will be a fiasco and result in violence as the government has not complied with recommendations by a United Nations expert to reform the National Election Committee, the body that will conduct the polls.
“The confrontation between political parties will lead to political instability,” he said. “There might be a violent revolt, I am concerned,” he said.
He said that during his U.S. visit, he received appreciation from lawmakers for standing up for human rights and freedom of expression in Cambodia.
Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party is widely expected to win the July 28 elections, extending his nearly three decades in power.
Mam Sonando was released in March on the orders of Cambodia’s Court of Appeal after prosecutors sought to drop two of the most serious charges against him—insurrection and incitement to take up arms against the state.
He was arrested in July last year, convicted of the charges three months later, and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The Appeals Court however convicted Mam Sonando on a new charge of illegal logging under the Forestry Law and reduced his sentence to five years, with eight months—or time served—in prison with the rest suspended.
Reported by Samean Yun for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.