Press Release / March 5, 2013

International attention on Cambodia’s land grabs as Mam Sonando case goes to appeal

Case attracts scrutiny as arrests of land activists double in a year

The Cambodian government must release prominent land activist Mam Sonando and end its increasing repression of civil society and ordinary citizens, said Global Witness ahead of Sonando’s appeal hearing in the court of Appeal on Tuesday. The appeal comes as international concern grows over the state-sponsored land grabbing crisis in Cambodia, which saw the number of people arrested during land disputes double between 2011 and 2012.

Sonando, who is in his 70s, was sentenced to twenty years in prison last October after being found guilty of inciting a village in eastern Katie province to rebel against the government. These charges are widely believed to have been fabricated after a land dispute between the village and the authorities resulted in the killing of a 14 year old girl by military police. One of the regime’s fiercest and longest standing critics, Sonando has been detained by the authorities twice before.  

‘Everyone knows these are trumped up charges designed to silence one of Cambodian civil society’s strongest voices. There is no evidence of a secessionist movement even existing, let alone of Sonando being involved’, said Oliver Courtney from Global Witness. ‘That’s why his conviction has been condemned by everyone from President Obama to the European Parliament. Today’s appeal is a chance for the Cambodian courts to reverse a politically motivated decision which has almost certainly sentenced an innocent man to die in jail.’

State-sponsored land grabs and repression of activists have increased sharply in Cambodia in recent months, as the country’s elite courts investor demand for plantations to grow rubber, sugar and other export crops. The Sonando case is the latest example of how the small cabal around the Prime Minister is able to use the courts to silence dissent and protect its business interests.

Last month, Cambodian NGO ADHOC reported that 232 people were arrested in relation to land and housing issues in 2012. This is a 144 per cent increase from 2011 and includes other high-profile cases such as those of the Boeung Kak Lake activists.

Cambodia has leased out more than 2 million hectares of land to industrial agricultural companies since 2008. This is equivalent to 73% of the country’s arable land, a rapid sell-off which has affected at least 400,000 people. With elections due in July 2013, violence and harassment against land activists increased markedly in 2012, with prominent environmental campaigner Chut Wutty and reporter Hang Serei Oudom amongst those murdered.


Contact: Oliver Courtney, [email protected] +44 (0)7912