Jailed Cambodian radio chief Mam Sonando is one of the human rights defenders nominated by international human rights organizations Front Line Defenders for its annual award. Every year Front Line Defenders presents the Front Line Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk to one person who has made an outstanding contribution to the cause of human rights. Previous winners of the Award have included human rights defenders from Syria, the Russian Federation, Afghanistan, Guatemala, DRC, Uzbekistan and Sudan.
Speaking at the announcement of the shortlist in Dublin on Monday, Front Line Defenders Executive Director Mary Lawlor said “To decide on this year’s shortlist we were faced with the unenviable task of choosing 6 human rights defenders from a total list of 90 nominations, from every region of the world. Every one of the 90 human rights defenders nominated for this year’s Award is an example of courage and absolute commitment to the cause of human rights. Each of the six shortlisted nominees have faced threats and intimidation while two of this year’s shortlisted nominees, Mam Sonando from Cambodia and David Rabelo Crespo from Colombia are currently in prison.”
Frontline says that Mam Sonando has devoted his life to helping the poor and disenfranchised of Cambodia, fighting for their rights while also following the non-violent precepts of his Buddhist faith. He is a journalist and the director of one of only three independent radio stations in Cambodia where the state has almost complete monopoly over the media, and crackdowns on free speech have led to widespread self-censorship. He is also founder and president of a national organisation called the Association of Democrats, which actively promotes democracy and human rights.
He was arrested in early July 2012 and despite there being absolutely no evidence to link him with the so-called secessionist movement, he was found guilty on October 1st 2012 of instigating insurrection and incitement to take up arms against the state and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.
After Sonando’s sentencing, Human Rights Watch said the ruling was a “travesty of justice” and the worst decision by a Cambodian court in two decades. The organization claims the charges against 71-year-old Sonando were intended as political retaliation by Prime Minister Hun Sen for allowing critical views of the government on Sonando’s independent radio station.
“There will always be people who choose to work for the promotion and protection of human rights. No matter how governments try, they will never get rid of them all, and as each one falls, another is there to continue the fight against injustice. It doesn’t matter whether their work is for a few years or for life, what governments don’t understand is that you will never quench the spirit of human rights defenders. It is in their blood and in their breathing,” Ms. Lawlor added.
The Front Line Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk is a celebration of that unquenchable spirit which unites human rights defenders around the world in a movement to create more just and equal societies. The winner of the 2013 Front Line Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk will be announced at a ceremony in Dublin later in the year.