PHNOM PENH —
Chan Soveth, a prominent rights investigator who appeared before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday was released with conditions and is not allowed to leave the country, rights workers said.
Chan Soveth has been charged with abetting the escape of several suspects in a security crackdown in Kratie province earlier this year.
Rights groups have said he is being targeted for his advocacy work. But police say he helped several men escape who were wanted in connection with an alleged secessionist plot that has already landed a prominent radio station owner, Mam Sonando, in jail.
Chan Soveth, who was accompanied to the court Monday by officials from the US Embassy, was released after questioning.
He did not speak to journalists following the hearing, and court officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Housing and rights activists gathered outside the court Monday, calling for the charges against him to be dropped.
Tep Vanny, an outspoken housing rights activist from the Boeung Kak community, said Chan Soveth should not have been charged at all.
“He committed no wrongdoing, because he was only concerned with human rights violations,” she told VOA Khmer.
Thun Saray, Adhoc’s president, told reporters after the hearing that the court put conditions on Chan Soveth not to leave the country. He will likely be summoned before judges again, Thun Saray said, though he did not have details.
Thun Saray said it was unclear what would happen next, but that Chan Sovath would appeal to have the charges against him dropped.
Yeng Vireak, president of the Community Legal Education Center, said the decision of the court not to detain Chan Soveth was a positive sign for Cambodia’s mistrusted judiciary.
However, Yeng Vireak said he would like to see the same thing happen in the jailing of Beehive Radio owner Mam Sonando, who is serving a 20-year sentence on charges related to sedition that rights workers say are dubious.
Beehive Radio is one of the few remaining independent broadcasters in the country, carrying programming by the Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and others—but Mam Sonando has come under direct criticism by Hun Sen, after he criticized the prime minister.
The summons of Chan Soveth also appears to be related to a public speech given by Prime Minister Hun Sen, in which he accused an unnamed rights worker of aiding a man named Bun Rotha, who has been implicated in the same alleged secessionist plot as Mam Sonando.