A jailed opposition activist had his sentence reduced to 10 months and 20 days by the Appeal Court on Wednesday, putting him in line to be released within the next week alongside a small wave of activists now being freed by the courts.
Five activists — from the opposition CNRP and activist groups Khmer Thavrak and Khmer Student Intelligent League Association — were released from jail on Friday; another Khmer Thavrak member on Monday; and a CNRP activist’s teenage son earlier today.
Three others — two from Khmer Thavrak, one from KSILA — are due to be released within the next week.
However, around 80 political prisoners are estimated to still remain in jail.
On Wednesday, the Appeal Court ruled that CNRP activist Pen Chansangkream’s 18-month jail sentence would be reduced to 10 months and 20 days. He will remain under probation for three years, during which he will be required to report when changing addresses or jobs and when summoned by the prosecutor.
Chansangkream was arrested in December in relation to protests and support for jailed unionist Rong Chhun, who sparked controversy by suggesting that Vietnam was encroaching on Cambodian land. Chansangkream had criticized the government alleging it was soft when dealing with Vietnam and Vietnamese immigrants.
Speaking to reporters after the Appeal Court decision, Chansangkream told VOD that he had no ill intentions, and the court should not have charged him arbitrarily.
“I am just an ordinary person. I have no influence to incite others. I still consider it an injustice for me.”
Another CNRP activist, however, had his two-year jail sentence for incitement and insulting the king upheld by the Appeal Court on Wednesday.
Ly Sokhom, also arrested in December over Facebook posts, was charged under the lese majeste law as well as incitement and earlier found guilty by the Kandal Provincial Court, said his defense lawyer Sam Sokong.
Sokong said he had argued for Sokhom to have the charges against him dropped based on the evidence. “So the defense considers that the decision does not give justice to the client,” he said.
Sokong added that even though Chansangkream would face imminent release, he would be under probation for three years. He wanted the charges against him dropped, and would discuss an appeal, Sokong said.
Human Rights Watch has said this month amid the recent verdicts that the country has more than 90 political prisoners.
Many of the activists being released were in pretrial detention for over a year before the courts, in the past two weeks, issued sentences that set up their imminent release.
Rights groups and international observers have criticized the convictions against the activists, including U.N. experts who last week called the convictions part of a “methodical and systematic erosion of civic and political space in Cambodia.”
“We are truly alarmed that the courts are again being weaponised to silence any form of dissent,” they said.