Supreme Court Upholds Decision to Reinvestigate RFA Journalists’ Case

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Mr. Uon Chhin, formerly a videographer, and Mr. Yeang Sothearin, a former news editor. Image: Hout Vuthy

More than a year since the courts reopened their investigation into two Radio Free Asia journalists, and almost three years since they were first arrested for treason, the Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled in favor of the continuing investigations.

Presiding Judge Nil Nonn announced the decision to uphold the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision of October 3, 2019 to reinvestigate the case. Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin said the decision was a matter of the courts simply following legal processes.

Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin were arrested in November 2017 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 before being released on bail, and their trial was held last year. They told the court that they had provided some news items to the U.S.-run Radio Free Asia after the news service shuttered its Phnom Penh office amid pressure.

But instead of issuing a verdict, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court announced last year that it would reinvestigate.

Cambodian Center for Human Rights executive director Chak Sopheap said in a statement that the Supreme Court’s decision was “shameful.”

“CCHR expresses its frustration at the continued judicial harassment of the pair, who still have not a definitive verdict nearly three years since their original arrest,” Sopheap said.

The case against the pair had been “plagued by procedural anomalies and arbitrary decisions,” she said. “The continual failure of the Court to reach a final verdict is indicative of a lack of credible evidence against the pair.”

Sopheap called for the courts to drop the case.

“Journalism is not a crime, and this trial is a blatant affront to freedom of expression and media freedom, forming part of a pattern of arbitrary and retaliatory prosecutions of critical voices in Cambodia,” she said.

Sothearin said outside the court that he hoped that amid a nationwide campaign to speed up the processing of backlogged cases, the investigation into his case would also finish soon.

“I see that the Justice Ministry always announces that it is speeding up the cases that have been stagnant,” he said. “I support that. Let’s do it like they say.”

Chhin added that the courts still held his confiscated cameras and recording equipment, and it was difficult for him to work.

The case against Chhin and Sothearin initially included a “pornography” component, which has since been split into a separate case that is also ongoing.

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