Appeal Court Upholds Decision to Reinvestigate RFA Case

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Former Radio Free Asia journalists Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin outside the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh on December 30, 2019. (Khan Leakhena/VOD)
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The Appeal Court on Monday upheld the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision to reinvestigate the case against two former Radio Free Asia reporters. 

The two reporters, Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, were arrested in November 2017 on charges of “production of pornography,” which carries a potential prison term of up to one year, and supplying a foreign state with information, punishable by up to 15 years in jail. They were released on bail in August last year.

On October 3, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued an order to reinvestigate the cases, which the pair appealed. The Appeal Court then effectively split the cases by deciding to announce the decisions for both appeals on separate days. 

Appeal Court Presiding Judge Plang Samnang on Monday denied the appeal by the pair to drop the charge of “production of pornography,” saying that the case is under investigation.

“The court did not accept this appeal because the case has not finished the reinvestigation process by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court,” Samnang said.

The judge added that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court needed to find out who had participated in the production of the allegedly pornographic video, where this video was sent to, and in which activities the accused had participated. He later singled out Sothearin’s supposed involvement in the production of the video as needing further scrutiny.

Talking to reporters outside the Appeal Court, Sothearin expressed his disappointment and considered the Appeal Court’s decision to be intentionally mistreating them as a result of their involvement in the U.S.-run RFA.

“I heard that the court tried to find justice for us and they said we are on bail [so] it does not affect [our] freedom, but actually, it is not like that. We are on bail and we are restricted by the court’s conditions,” Sothearin said. “If this case is still going on, it will cause us financial loss,” he added.

Chhin also expressed his disappointment. “What we wanted was to finish the case soon, so that we have full freedom to travel, and can bring our families from here to there and go have a [medical] check-up in neighboring countries like other people do,” he said.

Defense lawyer Sam Chamroeun said the Appeal Court’s decision harmed the rights of his clients.

Licadho monitoring manager Am Sam Ath echoed the assessment. He added that if the court did not speed up the case, the court would be criticized by the international community. “We hope that the two will be liberated from the charges,” he said. “The investigation process has taken years and it should have been finished, but the Phnom Penh Municipal Court decided to reinvestigate. This has led to more criticism, because the investigation has taken a long time already but still cannot find evidence.”

The appeal decision for the espionage part of the reinvestigation is expected on January 20.

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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