The Supreme Court decided to return the passport of a former Radio Free Asia journalist who has faced an espionage charge for five years, though a judge warned him to follow the courts’ every summons.
Supreme Court judge Kong Srim on Friday announced the decision to hand back the passport to Yeang Sothearin — who is now VOD’s editor-in-chief — by nullifying both the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s order dated April 7 and the Appeal Court’s order of June 30.
Judge Kong Srim said the court found fault with the Appeal Court’s decision, while noting that Sothearin sought to see his sister who is ill. The defendant had promised to show up for procedures when summoned and had been reliable since being released on bail, the judge said.
Srim reminded Sothearin to keep his promise, and if he did not show up when summoned, the court could arrest him again.
Sothearin told the judges that he had not been to his homeland in the south of Vietnam — known locally as Kampuchea Krom — or visited his parents for five years. His aunt and uncle had died during that time, and his sister was ill and in the last stage of her life, he told the court.
Sothearin was arrested in 2017 alongside another then-RFA journalist Uon Chin and charged with supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to national defense, punishable by up to 15 years in jail. They were jailed for nine months and released on bail before trial.
The case was then sent back for reinvestigation and is still in limbo.
Speaking to reporters outside the court, defense lawyer Sam Chamroeun said Sothearin was not under court supervision. “When he gets the passport, he can go in and out of the country.”