Cambodia: Court postpones verdict, orders new investigation into ex-RFA journalists

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has deferred a verdict in the espionage trial of two former Radio Free Asia (RFA) journalists and controversially ordered a new investigation into the case. In the decision by Justice Im Vannak on October 3, the court noted that the Cambodian authorities need “to investigate and search for other related documents” in the case. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the continued persecution of the journalists and calls for all charges to be dropped immediately.

Former Radio Free Asia journalists Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on October 3, 2019 Credit: Ouch Sony/VOD

Reporter Yeang Sothearin and cameraman Uon Chhin were arrested in November 2017 and charged with espionage for their journalism work with the US government funded outlet Radio Free Asia (RFA). Two months earlier in September 2017, RFA was forced to close after 30 local FM channels in Cambodia which rented airtime to RFA were shut down by the government makes its future operations untenable.

The Cambodian authorities allege the two journalists were “illegally collecting information” and sending it abroad to the United States. The trial concluded on August 9 with the verdict due to be handed down on August 30. However, this was delayed because the judge was said to be attending a workshop at the Ministry of Justice.

Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin spent nine months in jail before they were finally released on bail in August 2018. Then in March 2019, they were again restricted in their movements and placed under court supervision. Their passports were confiscated and most of Chhin’s journalist equipment was taken. In June 2019, an Appeal Court ruled the pair could be released from supervision, however they were still required to present to local police monthly and their passports and equipment remained in the possession of the authorities.

If convicted of supplying information to a foreign state, the pair face up to 15 years in prison. Both journalists maintain they are innocent of the charges.

The situation for press freedom in Cambodia remains grim, with unrelenting controls on media reporting and freedom of association under the Hun Sen government. In July, two journalists in Cambodia were arrested and charged with incitement to commit a felony  as they live-streamed a local protest.

The IFJ said: “The press freedom situation in Cambodia is increasingly parlous and this ongoing persecution of the two RFA journalists is clearly a state-led effort to silence and intimidate independent media. The IFJ strongly condemns the case against Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin and demands all charges to be dropped. Journalism is not a crime.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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