An appeal against the Cambodian court’s decision to place former Washington-based RFA reporters, Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin under court supervision was rejected on June 21.
The case dates back to 2017, when Chhin and Sothearin were detained on November 17 for “illegally collecting information for a foreign source” and charged under the Article 445 of the Criminal Code for allegedly providing information that could cause damage to national security. The reporters were accused of reporting for RFA at the time, even though the organisation had shut down its Cambodian office earlier that year as a result of the ongoing crackdown on independent media in the country.
Chhin and Sothearin were released on bail in August 2018 but in March 2019 they were placed under court supervision, which bars them from changing their address, traveling abroad, and also requires them to check in with their local police station once a month.
At the appeals court hearing, Chhin and Sothearin sought to have the court supervision lifted and the return of Chhin’s video equipment to allow him to earn a living once again. While the pair no longer need to report to the local police station every month, their lawyer stated their “freedom is not fully restored yet”. A date for the formal hearing is yet to be set, but if found guilty they face between 7 to 15 years in prison.
Both journalists maintain their innocence and the case has drawn global condemnation in the wider context of Cambodia’s repressive political environment. Their incarceration is viewed as part of a widespread state-backed crackdown against independent media and opponents ahead of the country’s 2018 national election, in which the ruling party won all seats after it effectively dissolved the main opposition party.
The IFJ said: “The IFJ again reiterates its gravest assessment on the climate of control that hangs over Cambodia and continues to influence all areas of the state and the country’s justice system. The use of criminal code to harass, intimidate and arrest Chhin and Sothearin is not acceptable and must be strongly condemned. We demand that authorities in Cambodia must stop harassing journalists and respect media freedom.”