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PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA

Four days after human rights defender and journalist Mam Sonando was released, co-defendants Touch Ream, Khan Sovann and Phorn Sreoun were also released from prison.

The four men who still claim to be innocent, were sentenced last year on insurrection charges after a land-grab related incident in Kratie, which led to the death of a 14 year-old girl. Sonando, Ream, Sovann and Sreoun carried 20 years, five years, three years and 10 months sentences respectively. However, on March 14, the Appeal Court reduced Ream’s and Sovann’s sentences, and announced radical changes to Sonando’s offenses and a reduction of his sentence to time served.

It was understood the four men would be freed simultaneously on March 15, however, only Sonando made it out on the day. As hundreds of supporters carried him on a chair away from prison to celebrate, families of the remaining three were left behind waiting to hear news from their release.

On March 19, Mam Sonando returned to prison to see his three co-defendants walk free out of jail. As they saluted and hugged one another, the men continuously proclaimed they had never met before the arrest.

Despite the joy of freedom, a bitter taste lingers in their mouths: they are still guilty. The charges have not been dropped, and their conditional freedom reminds them of a crime they did not commit. For them – as for many other Cambodians – this small victory only adds to the uncertainty of the future.

 

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Touch Ream is seen with his family during a break from the hearing at the Appeal Court today. Mr. Ream was convicted and sentenced along Khan Sovann, and Mam Sonando on insurrection charges on September last year. Mar 05 2013. Mar 06 2013 ©Erika Pineros

Touch Ream in prison uniform, is seen with his family during a break from the hearing at the Appeal Court. Ream was convicted and sentenced along Sovann, Sreoun and Sonando on insurrection charges in 2012. Mar 05 2013 ©Erika Pineros

 

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Families of Sonando's co-defendants at Beehive radio station offices during their stay in Phnom Penh. Mar 18 2013 ©Erika Pineros

Families of Sonando’s co-defendants at Beehive radio station offices during their stay in Phnom Penh. Mar 18 2013 ©Erika Pineros

 

Phorn Sreoun's wife, Phat Phin and daughter look out the car's window on their way to Correctional Centre 1. Four days before, they made the exact trip expecting their husbands to be released along Mam Sonando. Mar 19 2013 ©Erika Pineros

Phorn Sreoun’s wife, Phat Phin and daughter look out the car’s window on their way to Correctional Centre 1. Four days before, they made the exact trip expecting their husbands to be released along Mam Sonando. Mar 19 2013 ©Erika Pineros

 

Touch Ream plays with his baby girl as he walks free out of prison. Mr. Ream was convicted and sentenced along Mam Sonando on insurrection charges in 2012. Mar 19 2013 ©Erika Pineros

Touch Ream plays with his baby girl as he walks free out of prison. Mr. Ream was convicted and sentenced along Mam Sonando on insurrection charges in 2012. Mar 19 2013 ©Erika Pineros

 

Mam Sonando, Khan Sovann and Touch Ream greet each other outside of prison. The three claim they did not know each other prior to the arrest. Mar 19 2013. ©Erika Pineros

Mam Sonando, Khan Sovann and Touch Ream greet each other outside of prison. The three claim they did not know each other prior to the arrest. Mar 19 2013. ©Erika Pineros

 

Touch Ream, Khan Sovann, Phorn Sreoun and families are blessed after being released from jail at the nearest pagoda. Mar 19 2013 ©Erika Pineros

Touch Ream, Khan Sovann, Phorn Sreoun and families are blessed after being released from jail at the nearest pagoda. Mar 19 2013 ©Erika Pineros

 

 

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To see related posts go to:
Mam Sonando freed,  To be freed, Await verdict, Bail Denied, Sonando’s trial Day 1