By Khy Sovuthy and Dene-Hern Chen
The Cambodia Daily
The Court of Appeal on Friday denied bail to imprisoned radio station
owner and government critic Mam Sonando during a rapid-fire hearing,
while hundreds of Mr. Sonando’s supporters marched to the U.N.’s Office
of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Phnom Penh to appeal for
help from the U.N. envoy to Cambodia, Surya Subedi.
The 72-year-old radio station owner is currently serving a 20-year
jail sentence for his alleged involvement in stirring up a so-called
uprising in Kratie province in May, a charge that has been widely
derided as politically motivated.
“The court does not agree to release Mam Sonando, 72, on bail,”
presiding Judge Khun Leang Meng said at the end of the 40-minute
“The court is afraid that he will be able to put pressure on
witnesses and cause public disorder,” Judge Leang Meng said by way of an
explanation for his decision to deny bail.
Hean Rith, the Appeal Court’s prosecutor, said that because Mr.
Sonando has dual nationality—Cambodian and French—he should not be
released on bail because he might flee to France.
Mr. Sonando—who has faced a host of health problems since he was
jailed in July—reiterated his innocence to the judges during his brief
hearing, pointing out, once again, that he was not even in the country
when the so-called uprising took place.
“This case occurred while I was in France and I don’t know what
happened,” Mr. Sonando told the court. “If I did wrong, I would not have
returned to Cambodia,” he said.
“I have been imprisoned for five months and for each month, I have lost a kilogram,” he added.
Mr. Sonando’s lawyer, Sar Sovann, appealed to the court to consider
house arrest for his elderly client, adding that the court could also
impose a gag order on the popular radio stationer owner.
“Please release him on bail, even if he is not allowed to go outside his house or to meet journalists,” Mr. Sovann said.
Both he and Mr. Sonando’s wife said they would now appeal to the Supreme Court.
Outside the Court of Appeal, more than 300 supporters—dressed in
T-shirts and hats bearing Mr. Sonando’s face—protested for his release.
When they heard that he was denied bail, several burst into tears.
Sim Lay, 53, said that she has lost hope in the judicial system.
“I am very angry with the court denying Mam Sonando bail, but this
result will make me stronger in my protests,” Ms. Lay said, speaking
After Mr. Sonando was driven back to Prey Sar prison, his supporters
marched to the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
on Street 302—with hundreds of police and military police officers
tailing them—to appeal for help from Surya Subedi, the human rights
envoy to Cambodia.
Shortly after, Mr. Subedi arrived at the office and apologized to the
hundreds-strong crowd in the street for not being able to attend Mr.
Sonando’s hearing in person. The decision of the Appeal Court, Mr.
Subedi said, was questionable.
“The decision made by the court this morning is puzzling to me. At
his age and health, I would have expected that the court would grant him
bail,” Mr. Subedi said, using a loudspeaker to address the crowd
gathered outside the U.N. office.
Mr. Subedi visited Mr. Sonando in prison on Wednesday and spent an
hour talking to him about his case and his conditions in jail.
Human rights groups also expressed disappointment with the decision
to deny bail and said that the court’s stated reasons were “baseless.”
“[B]y refusing Mam Sonando bail and continuing the detention of the
[72-year-old ] journalist and human rights defender, the judicial system
showed itself to be politically pliant,” local rights group Adhoc said
in a statement.
“CHRAC [The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee] is of the view
that [the decision] lacks legal reasoning in failing to consider the
submissions from Mr. Sonando’s lawyer,” the group said a statement.
“We are concerned about the political interference with the judicial ruling of this case,” CHRAC added.
Vietnam Veterans of America on Monday joined a proposed class action lawsuit in Hartford against the Army, Navy and Air Force. The lawsuit, filed last year by a veteran, says the Vietnam veterans suffered PTSD before it was recognized and were discharged under other-than-honorable conditions that made them ineligible for disability compensation and other benefits.
“People did not understand PTSD during the Vietnam era,” said John Rowan, national president of Vietnam Veterans of America. “Now that we do, these service members must not be denied the recognition and benefits they long ago earned.”
The U.S. attorney’s office, which is representing the military in the lawsuit, said it’s reviewing the matter and will respond in court. A Department of Defense spokeswoman said the agency is committed to addressing concerns related to PTSD and has taken numerous steps, including conducting PTSD assessments of service members at military treatment facilities.
The initial lawsuit was filed by Vietnam veteran John Shepherd, of New Haven, who says he was diagnosed with PTSD in 2004 but has been repeatedly denied a discharge upgrade.
Shepherd and the VVA, which has about 65,000 members, are represented by Yale Law School students who work at a veterans legal services clinic. The students say since 2003 the Army has approved fewer than 2 percent of applications by Vietnam veterans claiming PTSD to upgrade discharges, compared to 46 percent for all discharge upgrade applications in recent years.
Some of the veterans denied had at least one medal or had a PTSD diagnosis from the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to the students, who analyzed the Army data.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he sympathizes with the veterans’ concerns and has been working with the Yale Law Clinic, the Department of Defense and state and federal veterans services agencies on a more equitable process to resolve them.
“The fact that Post-Traumatic Stress was not understood during the Vietnam War era should not preclude a reconsideration now of individual cases,” Blumenthal said in a statement.
The lawsuit estimates about 85,000 of the more than 250,000 Vietnam veterans discharged under other-than-honorable conditions have PTSD. The discharges were based on poor conduct such as unauthorized absence without leave, shirking, using drugs or lashing out at comrades or superior officers, conduct the lawsuit says was a symptom of underlying undiagnosed PTSD.
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can develop in a person who experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. Symptoms include flashbacks or nightmares of the traumatic event.
The veterans have experienced homelessness, prolonged unemployment and troubled relationships, the lawsuit says.
“Isolated and impoverished, they have struggled to cope not only with their war wounds but also with the shame of a bad discharge,” it says.
The Army awarded Shepherd with a Bronze Star after his unit came under intense fire and he entered an enemy bunker and threw a grenade that killed several enemy soldiers, according to the lawsuit.
Shepherd developed symptoms of PTSD after blowing up the enemy bunker and later witnessing the gruesome deaths of several comrades, according to his lawsuit. Shepherd began to act strangely and was found wandering around a base in a confused state. He eventually reached a breaking point and refused to go back out into the field, the lawsuit says.
He was charged with failure to obey an order and was discharged.
Shepherd’s application for a discharge upgrade was denied again in June. The Army said he failed to present convincing evidence that his misconduct 43 years ago was the result of PTSD or that his discharge was improper, but he’s appealing the decision.
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