A Cambodian appeals court on Thursday reduced the jail term of Mam Sonando, a prominent radio host and government critic, who was convicted of inciting rebellion and sentenced to 20 years in prison [JURIST report] last October. The Phnom Penh court reduced the sentence [AI report] to a five-year term, only holding him accountable for a charge of instigating an illegal clearing and occupation of a forested area. Accounting for time already served, Sonando will in all likelihood face an upcoming release from prison [BBC report]. Many remain wary of the situation's implications, with Amnesty International's Rupert Abbott stating, "The introduction of new charges at such a late stage raises concerns about the fairness of the proceedings, while the suspended sentence may be designed to silence Mam Sonando." However, many view the overturned sentence as a positive step for freedom of expression in the country.
Before his arrest Sonando ran the independent Beehive radio station and has been an outspoken critic of the Cambodian government [AFP report]. He was arrested in July on accusations of being involved in a plot to incite villagers in eastern Kratie to rebel against the Cambodian government in an effort to establish an autonomous region in the province. The court held that Sonando had been instrumental in inciting villagers [BBC report] in May to form their own state in the eastern province. An additional 13 people were convicted on similar indictments. Several hundred people assembled outside the court in support of the rights activist as his sentence was being handed down.