Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Ahead of trial, groups call for end to proceedings against RFA journalists

Rights groups urged the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to dismiss the espionage cases against two former Radio Free Asia journalists, who are set to stand trial on Friday.

Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin worked for RFA’s Khmer-language news service until the U.S.-funded media outlet shut its Phnom Penh bureau on September 12, 2017, citing government pressure and the forced closure of FM radio stations carrying its broadcasts.

Both were arrested in Phnom Penh’s Marady Hotel in November 2017 and accused of sending intelligence reports to the U.S., an allegation they deny.

They spent nine months in pretrial detention before being released on bail last year.

Soeng Senkaruna, senior investigator at human right group Adhoc, said the accusations against them lacked credibility.

The charges should be dropped to allow the men to find work and resume their lives, he said.

“If the court drops the case or acquits them, it would be a boon for them,” Senkaruna said. “It will show the international community and the nation that Cambodia is opening a space for press freedom.”

Sothearin could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

On June 21, the Appeal Court rejected applications by the former RFA journalists to annul their court supervision and return their belongings, which were confiscated by police officers upon their arrests.

Human Rights Watch issued a statement on June 19 urging Cambodian authorities to drop the espionage charges, which it deemed politically motivated.

“The two former RFA journalists are victims of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s unending attack on media outlets that dare air critical reports about the government,” said Brad Adams, the executive director of the New York-based NGO’s Asia division.

“There’s no basis for the ludicrous charges against these two reporters or for forcing them into judicial supervision.”

Rohit Mahajan, vice president of communications and external relations at Radio Free Asia, also called for an end to the court actions in a statement issued on Wednesday.

“Former Radio Free Asia journalists Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin have already suffered nine months of imprisonment and now face unsubstantiated charges, which never should have been brought forward in the first place. The Phnom Penh Court Municipal Court can rectify this unnecessary and troubling situation by dismissing the case and all charges against them without delay,” Mahajan said.