The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday freed on bail, two former Radio Free Asia (RFA) reporters, who were charged with espionage.
Oun Chhin, 49, and Yeang Sochea Meta (Sothearin), 35, were arrested by the Meanchey district authorities on November 14, last year, and spent eight months in Prey Sar Prison.
Sothearin and Oun Chhin were arrested on suspicion of filing stories for the Washington-based radio station.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced them to jail on two charges –“espionage under Article 445 of the Criminal Code” and an additional charge of “producing pornography”.
They were held under pre-trial detention, and if convicted, could face a 15-year jail term for supplying information to foreign agencies, which undermines national security.
The two RFA Khmer Service reporters joined a list of activists who were released in recent days, including social analyst Kim Sok on August 17 and Tep Vanny, the Boeung Kak land activist on August 20.
Human rights observers lauded their release and described it as a “positive development” taking place in the Kingdom.
“Actually the two should not have been charged and detained since the beginning. However, we welcome and are happy with this positive development.
“We expect other human rights, land and political activists who are being detained will be released subsequently,” said Chak Sopheap, the director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
After stepping out of prison at about 6pm yesterday, Meta looked frail after spending months in the tough jail environment but managed a smile when his family members came to take him home.
He said: “Now I have a painful backbone and pain around my waist.”
Meta said the release does not mean complete freedom for both Chhin and himself, as they were released on bail and under court surveillance.
“I will try to ask the court to drop our charges because we did not work for Radio Free Asia since it closed down in Phnom Penh,” he said, adding that it will be his next move after leaving prison.
The RFA shut its Phnom Penh bureau last September.
Commenting after his release, Chhin said he does not have any serious health problems except minor a skin itch.
He described the eight months in prison as similar to ‘life in hell’. “Nothing happier than living with family members and relatives,” he said.