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.