PHNOM PENH —
Activists and political observers welcomed the release of four human rights workers and an election official on bail last week and called on the courts to drop all charges against the men.
The surprise decision to release the detainees came on Thursday after they had been in pre-trial detention for more than a year.
They were arrested in early May last year and charged with allegedly bribing a witness in a case against opposition leader Kem Sokha.
The four rights workers from local NGO Adhoc -- Lim Mony, Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda and Yi Soksan -- were greeted by their families outside the Phnom Penh prison where they were held on Thursday evening.
Their release came days after Prime Minister Hun Sen met the U.S. ambassador in Phnom Penh.
Meas Ny, a political analyst, said he welcomed the decision, but called on the authorities to drop all charges against the accused.
“In my opinion they should be released completely. When they are released on bail, it’s like they were released from a small jail to a big jail,” he said.
San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in Cambodia, said the move was a positive sign ahead of a general election scheduled for next year.
“Besides their release on bail, I think that dropping the charges against them and offering them justice is what the general public wants,” he said.
The U.S. Embassy issued a statement welcoming the decision.
“The U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh welcomes the release on bail of current and former officials from the Cambodian human rights non-governmental organization Adhoc. This legal decision will reduce the burden on the defendants and their families as they address the charges that have been filed against them,” it said.
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party also welcomed the release of the detainees on bail.
Sok Eysan, ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman, said he regretted the lengthy detention of the activists.
Am Sam Ath, head of investigations at local rights group Licadho, said while it was good that the activists were released, their “freedom is just temporary” as they were still facing what many consider to be politically motivated charges.
Vanda, one of the Adhoc staffers, said he had not believed he would be released when he was first told the news.
“I didn’t believe it at all at first ... there are many reasons which I don’t want to go into.
“But the release did happen and it seems like a dream to me.”