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Jailed opposition activist walks free

Jailed Sam Rainsy Party activist Tuot Saron was released yesterday by Kampong Thom provincial court, following the receipt of a letter of pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni last month.

Tuot Saron, who is also the chief of Pongro commune in Baray district, was arrested on March 18, 2008 ahead of that year’s national election, and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for abducting and illegally holding an SRP election candidate against their will.

The SRP has long contested the charges, arguing that they were politically motivated. His release, which comes around four months ahead of the expiration of his jail term, was approved by the King in a letter of pardon dated November 26.

SRP lawmaker Son Chhay welcomed his release yesterday, but said Tuot Saron should never have been jailed in the first place. He repeated the party’s earlier claims that the charges against Tuot Saron were political.

“It is regrettable. Tuot Saron should have been released a long time ago because he was jailed due to political motivations,” Son Chhay said. “This release, it almost reaches to three-year [term] limit. Doing it like this it is very bad.”

In September, British-based rights group Amnesty International called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of the activist, describing him as a “prisoner of conscience”.

“Amnesty International believes that the accusations against [Tuot Saron] were baseless and politically motivated, in order to intimidate other opposition party activists,” the organisation said in a statement issued September 15.

The Amnesty statement said that Tuot Saron and three other SRP members were approached in 2008 “for protection” by another SRP candidate under pressure from the CPP to switch party affiliations. After travelling with her from Kampong Thom to Phnom Penh, he was arrested and held in pretrial detention until he was sentenced in March 2009.

Following his release yesterday, Tuot Saran vowed to continue fighting injustice and would try to serve the people in his old role as commune chief.

“I won’t be scared of anything,” he said. “I would like to call for all members and activists of the party not to have bad feelings. We must continue together our political affairs to fight for freedom, justice, and democracy.”

Kampong Thom provincial court president Khorn Sokal, who approved Tuot Saron’s release, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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