A Cambodian court has postponed until January 28 its ruling on the request by Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin, former RFA reporters to drop the reinvestigation by government prosecutors of espionage charges against them.
The two journalists 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 Phnom Penh in September that year.
On Dec. 30 last year, the court rejected an appeal by the two reporters to halt a reinvestigation into separate charges of producing pornography, allowing a new investigation into those charges to proceed.
Speaking to reporters following Monday’s hearing, Yeang Sothearin said that court investigators already had “lots of time to work on our cases,” adding, “I feel like they are treating us as political hostages.”
“I expect the Appeals Court judges to now fully consider the arguments of our defence lawyer and provide justice for us,” he said.
Also speaking following the hearing, Uuon Chhin said that if their case is delayed much longer, “there will be no end to our mistreatment and harassment.”
“Now we can neither travel freely nor find permanent jobs like normal people,” he said. “So the longer this goes on, the more we will have to suffer.”
Local and international rights groups and legal observers have meanwhile condemned the treatment of the two journalists in the courts as part of a wider attack on the media in Cambodia and called for their release.
In a January 19 statement, Human Rights Watch noted that on October 03, 2019, a trial judge ruled that a two-year investigation into the charges against the two reporters had failed to produce sufficient evidence to convict them.
“However, instead of dismissing the case he sent it for reinvestigation,” HRW said.
“Cambodian authorities have treated the former RFA journalists as criminals by manufacturing a farcical case against them,” HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robinson said. “The authorities should drop the charges and end the ceaseless judicial harassment of these two journalists.”
On January 16, the American Bar Association noted in a statement that the pre-trial treatment of Chhin and Sothearin had been marked by “significant due process abuses, including violations of the right to be informed of the reasons for arrest, the right to communicate with counsel, and the prohibition against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment,” the Association said.
“Further, the detention of Mr.Chhin and Mr.Sothearin was arbitrary.”
“The evidence suggests that the men were actually detained on the basis of their work for RFA, which entailed reporting critical of the government,” the Association said.
Meanwhile, “the trial court’s order permitting a second investigation into Chhin and Sothearin’s conduct absence any evidence of guilt was inconsistent with the journalists’ right to the presumption of innocence,” the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s Trial Watch Initiative said in a statement, also on January 16.
“[In] Chhin and Sothearin’s case, the Cambodian Prosecution Service and judiciary are not enforcing the law but functioning as a tool to silence the press,” the Foundation said. (Source: RFA)