Outspoken Cambodian union leader released from jail

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Rong Chhun, the jailed leader of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, is expected to be released after a court reduced his sentence (AFP/TANG CHHIN Sothy)
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An outspoken Cambodian union leader jailed for comments about the country's border was released on Friday after a court reduced his sentence.

Rong Chhun, the leader of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, was arrested and jailed last year after accusing the government of "irregularities" over the demarcation of the eastern border with Vietnam.

Activists at the time said he had been targeted as part of premier Hun Sen's crackdown on opposition voices.

As he left jail on Friday evening, Rong Chhun, who denies the charges against him, told AFP: "My arrest and conviction is an attempt to silence my voice."

Rong Chhun was detained in July and sentenced to two years in jail in August 2020.

An appeal court on Friday reduced his prison term to time already served, his lawyer Sam Sokong told AFP, with the remaining sentence suspended for three years.

Four other activists, who were jailed over protests demanding his release, will also be released, he added.

On Friday evening, wearing a headband adorned with the Cambodian flag, Rong Chhun was greeted outside Prey Sar Prison by a throng of supporters.

He vowed to continue his activism.

"I will continue my mission because Cambodia is facing a danger," he told AFP, adding his arrest was "a message to intimidate people, teachers, intellectuals and youths not to speak the truth against the government".

The comments for which Rong Chhun was jailed involved a newly agreed borderline between Cambodia and Vietnam, which the activist said encroached on some locals' farmland.

The territorial dispute has long been a lightning rod for controversy, fuelled by strong anti-Vietnamese sentiment in Cambodia.

Opposition activists accuse Hun Sen of ceding territory to Hanoi, in a bid to whip up nationalist feeling against him.

Hun Sen is one of the world's longest-serving leaders and has been in power for 36 years.

Critics say he has wound back democratic freedoms and used the courts to stifle opposition.

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