Cambodian court to rule on ‘reinvestigation’ of RFA reporters’ case

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An appeal by two former RFA reporters to drop a reinvestigation into pornography charges against them, will get a ruling on December 30 by a court of appeals in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.

Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin, who worked as stringers for RFA, were taken into custody in November 2017 and charged with “illegally collecting information for a foreign source” after RFA closed its bureau in the capital in September.

Production of pornography, bringing a possible prison term of five to seven years, was later added to the charges filed against them.

Another hearing on their appeal of the reinvestigation on charges of espionage will be held on January 20 next year, sources said.

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service following a two-hour hearing in court on Monday, defence attorney Sok Chamreurn criticized a lower court decision on October 03 to reinvestigate the two men’s case, saying the continued delays in reaching a verdict in their trial have left them stressed and unable to work.

Court investigators have already examined the charges against the two reporters for over two years, he said, adding, “The order to reinvestigate the case violates the principle of rules of evidence and procedure, as well as [my clients’]right to a speedy trial.”

Also speaking to RFA, former RFA reporter Yeang Sothearin expressed resentment and frustration with the court order, saying the case has “dragged on indefinitely for too long.”

“How can we live our lives like this? Now, I just want the appeals court to finish and clear this case up as soon as possible,” he said.

Cambodian Journalists Alliance executive director Mary Titthara meanwhile called the court-ordered reinvestigation of the case against the two reporters unnecessary, as two years of investigation have so far uncovered no evidence to support the charges made against them.

“We are still urging that the charges be dropped,” she said.

Local and international rights groups condemned the treatment of Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin in the courts as part of a wider attack on the media in Cambodia and called for their release.

RFA closed its nearly 20-year-old bureau in Phnom Penh on September 12, 2017 amid a crackdown by Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) that also saw the Supreme Court dissolve the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) a month later.

The move paved the way for the CPP to sweep the ballot in national elections last year, effectively turning Cambodia into a one-party state.

Cambodian journalists working for RFA had reported over the years on corruption, illegal logging, and forced evictions, among other stories largely ignored by pro-government media, and authorities had already closed independent radio stations carrying RFA reports, using a pretext of tax and administrative violations.

The arrest of Uong Chhin and Yeang Sothearin came after a warning from Cambodia’s Ministries of Information and Interior that any journalists still working for RFA after its office in the capital closed would be treated as spies.

They were released on bail in August last year, but were placed under court supervision, which barred them from changing their addresses or traveling abroad, and required them to check in with their local police station once a month. (Source: RFA)

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