Two Years After Arrests, Renewed Calls to Drop RFA Journalists’ Charges

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Former Radio Free Asia journalists Uon Chhin (left) and Yeang Sothearin (right) exit the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after their verdict announcement was delayed on August 30, 2019. (Ouch Sony/VOD)
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Two journalists who worked for the U.S.’s Radio Free Asia in Phnom Penh marked two years since their arrest on Thursday as local and international groups renewed their call for the espionage case against them to be dropped.

Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin were arrested on November 14, 2017, two months after the U.S.-run, opposition-friendly RFA shuttered its Cambodia office amid pressure from the government.

The pair were charged with supplying information to a foreign state prejudicial to national defense under the Criminal Code’s treason and espionage crimes, and were imprisoned for nine months before being released on bail.

Despite a trial earlier this year and a verdict due on October 3, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordered a reinvestigation into the case, prolonging the journalists’ plight.

Chhin said the case hanging over him prevented him from moving on with his life.

“The loss of freedom is a very difficult thing. I want to go out and study, and cannot go to work overseas,” he said.

He was “waiting for justice” so he could resume earning a living, he said.

Sothearin maintained that the pair were innocent of doing anything that had prejudiced national defense as charged.

During the trial, the journalists said they had filed reports to RFA even after it closed its Phnom Penh office. Chhin told the court he had delivered a digital drive to the U.S. Embassy, which RFA later explained contained story archives and personnel records. It was not explained in court how the acts would amount to espionage.

“If it continues like this, it seems like the court is mistreating [us] and intends to take revenge against both of us as former Radio Free Asia reporters,” he said. “The continuation of my case puts Cambodia’s judicial system in a bad light.”

Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Y Rin declined to comment on the case, saying it was under judicial processing.

In a statement on Thursday, the newly formed Cambodian Journalists Alliance (CamboJA) said the charges against the two former RFA reporters were serious and baseless, and called for them to be dropped.

They violated the journalists’ freedoms and were a threat to media freedom in Cambodia as a whole, said the group, whose board members include VOD editors.

May Titthara, CamboJA’s executive director, said in the statement that the continued harassment of the two reporters amounted to intimidation against all reporters in Cambodia.

“Especially former Radio Free Asia reporters,” Titthara said. “Some of them do not dare to continue their professional work as journalists, while others are still in hiding out of fear.”

Human Rights Watch also issued a statement demanding that the Cambodian court drop the charges.

“The never-ending case is part of the government’s campaign to silence all critical reporting in the country,” the New York-based group’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said.

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

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