Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Appeal Court holds ‘inconclusive hearing’ into RFA case’s reinvestigation

Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin give the interview to journalists in front of Appeal court after the hearing on 20, January 2020. Camboja

The Appeal Court on Monday heard an appeal from two former Radio Free Asia journalists contesting the reinvestigation of their espionage case more than two years after they were charged.

The case against Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin have been before the courts since they were arrested in November 2017 and detained for nine months. Their trial was held last year, but instead of issuing a verdict in October, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court announced that the case would be reinvestigated.

On Monday, the pair’s lawyer, Sam Chamroeun, said the length of time the municipal court had taken to investigate was unreasonable.

“The court has spent 15 to 16 months already — that should be enough time,” Chamroeun said.

Sothearin and Chhin are charged with supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to national defense, apparently for continuing to deliver some articles to U.S.-run Radio Free Asia after it shuttered its Phnom Penh offices in 2017 amid government pressure.

Sothearin told reporters after the hearing that the prolonged legal procedures was making life difficult. “Even if we are outside prison we don’t have complete freedom, because we cannot find a good job to support our family,” he said.

Chhin added that he hoped that the case would be over soon.

The Appeal Court is scheduled to announce its decision on Jan. 28.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said the Appeal Court should halt “the so-called ‘re-investigation’ of the bogus espionage charges.”

“Foreign governments should interpret today’s inconclusive hearing as yet another signal the Cambodian government refuses to make any concessions on civil and political rights, and fails to respect the principle of media freedom,” Robertson said in a statement on Monday.

“More than ever, this case has been revealed as a crude tool to intimidate and silence other independent journalists in Cambodia.”