Early release of activists in Cambodia

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A Cambodian appeals court has ordered the early release of five activists, including a prominent labour leader who has been a longtime critic of the government.

The Phnom Penh Court of Appeals said on Friday it had ordered the release later in the day of Rong Chhun and four others, but gave no immediate details about its decision.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, has been in custody since July 2020 after the government claimed he spread false information about Cambodia's border with Vietnam - a sensitive issue with political significance in the country.

He was convicted in August and sentenced to two years in prison for inciting social unrest.

His attorney, Sam Sokong, said the court cut short that sentence to 15 months and 11 days, including time served.

Also ordered released were two co-defendants, Ton Nimol and Sar Kanika, who were found guilty of incitement to commit a felony. They were each arrested in August 2020 while demonstrating for the release of Rong Chhun, and each was sentenced to 20 months in prison in the same trial as him.

Two other activists in an unrelated case were also ordered to be released.

Labor leaders such as Rong Chhun hold significant political influence in Cambodia because they represent the vast number of workers in the country's textile industry, which is a major export earner. The major unions have historically aligned themselves with the political opposition to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Rong Chhun served on the national election committee of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party before it was dissolved by court order in 2017, ahead of the 2018 general election.

The party's dissolution was generally seen as intended to ensure victory for Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party. Hun Sen has been in power for 36 years, and has often been accused of heading an authoritarian regime.

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