Thai activist and former yellow-shirt leader Veera Somkwamkid, imprisoned since 2010 on spying charges, has been granted a royal pardon, the prime minister’s spokesman announced today at a late-afternoon press conference.
Acting Thai Foreign Minister Sihasak Phuangketkeow requested the pardon during a two-day visit to the capital to discuss migrant worker regulations.
Despite the rebuffing of several previous Thai efforts to secure Veera’s release, the premier’s spokesman, Eang Sophalleth, confirmed that the request was granted and that the Thai ultra-nationalist was to be released from Prey Sar prison.
“Mr Veera will be released today through a royal pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni and will accompany [Thai Foreign Minister] Sihasak and his delegation back to Thailand tomorrow,” Sophalleth said.
Veera subsequently walked free at about 6pm this evening, according to Kuy Bunsorn, general director of prisons at the Ministry of Interior.
Veera and his secretary, Ratree Pipattanapaiboon, were arrested in December 2010 with five other Thai nationals in a disputed border area in Banteay Meanchey province.
Veera and Ratree were convicted the following February on charges of illegal entry and espionage and given prison sentences of eight and six years, respectively. Ratree was granted a royal pardon last February along with another 400 prisoners released on the sidelines of the funeral for King Father Norodom Sihanouk.
Today’s pardon was accompanied by a reiterated request from Hun Sen that the Thai junta release 14 Cambodian migrant workers jailed earlier this month after they were caught with fake visas.
After the group was jailed, political analysts predicted that a prisoner swap between the two nations – especially one involving Veera – was likely imminent.
“This is a win-win type of deal for both sides,” said Thai politics expert Kevin Hewison, who told the Post last week that he expected such a result.
“They’ll both be seen as doing good by their constituents without having to lose anything,” he added.
Additional reporting by Laignee Barron