JAILED journalist Ros Sokhet is set to walk free after having his sentence slashed by the Appeal Court yesterday – a year to the day after he was first arrested on disinformation charges.
During a brief hearing, presiding judge Pol Sam Oeun upheld an earlier conviction, but said Ros Sokhet would only be required to serve a single year in jail, making him eligible for release shortly.
The freelance journalist was arrested a year ago after sending a series of allegedly threatening text messages to prominent commentator and news anchor Soy Sopheap.
In November, Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted him of disinformation and sentenced him to two years in jail, a verdict that was harshly criticised by local and international observers.
During his trial, the prosecution said Ros Sokhet used the messages to accuse Soy Sopheap of demanding money from a woman arrested for firing a pistol illegally in exchange for keeping her story out of the press. Ros Sokhet has denied the charges.
His defence lawyer, Sam Sokong, said yesterday that despite the release of his client, he would file an appeal to the Supreme Court in an attempt to have the conviction overturned altogether.
“It is unfair because the court does not have the evidence to accuse my client,” Sam Sokong said. “On behalf of [my client], I will file a complaint to the Supreme Court.”
Pen Samitthy, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, said he welcomed the verdict, but still “regretted” the original conviction.
Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann described the case against Ros Sokhet as “unjust”, and said it was another example of political interference in the courts.
“If the court is independent, the court should not have sentenced him for so long,” he said. He went on to suggest that the very nature of Ros Sokhet’s release was not a good sign.
In September, Ros Sokhet told The Post that Information Minister Khieu Kanharith had agreed to assist him in his efforts to escape prison in order to care for his ageing mother.
“The court has no power at all – the power belongs to a handful of people in the CPP,” Yim Sovann said.
Following yesterday’s hearing, Ros Sokhet’s sister, Ros Rada, 46, thanked the court for releasing her brother, saying she was constantly worried about him during his detention.
“I consider that my brother was unlucky. My brother will be free, and he can work normally again, because my brother was not at fault,” she said.
She said she spoke with Ros Sokhet before the verdict was announced and brought food for him to the court, though he was not present at the hearing.
“I will bring the food to my brother and tell him about his verdict,” Ros Rada said.
CCJ official Chet Sorn said yesterday that Ros Sokhet would likely be freed by Tuesday. Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment.