PHNOM PENH - The Cambodian Appeals Court is expected to release jailed Beehive Radio owner Mam Sonando on Friday, giving him a suspended sentence and time served after hearings last week.
Mam Sonando had been facing a 20-year prison sentence for charges related to sedition, but the Appeals Court dropped the heaviest charges against him and ordered his release in an announcement Thursday.
Supporters cheered outside the courtroom when they heard the news. Some sang. Others released birds from cages.
An outspoken critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen, widely considered innocent of the charges against him, Mam Sonando, 71, has been in prison since he was arrested in July. Beehive Radio carries programming by the Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and other international broadcasters.
Mam Sonando smiled when the judge issued the decision, but he made no comments to the media. “Wait until I am free,” he said.
He is still facing a suspended sentence of five years under the forestry law, which was brought by the prosecutor for the Appeals Court. His attorney, Sar Sovan, said he would appeal that decision with the Supreme Court.
“I am not happy with the additional charge, because it runs counter to the law and legal procedure that the prosecutor changed the charges at the last minute,” he said. “There were no woods in that economic land concession area, unlike in a forest concession.”
Am Sam Ath, monitoring supervisor for the rights group Licadho, welcomed the court’s decision, but he said it had come only under pressure from the internationally community, especially the US and France.