Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Appeal Court rejects request to halt reinvestigation of RFA case

Two former Radio Free Asia journalists who remain under investigation more than two years after their initial arrest. Stringer

The Appeal Court has upheld the reinvestigation order into a pornography case against two former Radio Free Asia journalists who are also accused of espionage.

Presiding Judge Plang Samnang announced the decision in the court on Monday, saying he could not accept the appeal made by Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, who remain under investigation more than two years after their initial arrest.

“The court needs time to research and review the pornography video, whether and how they were distributed and who participated in taking the photos — whether Yeang Sothearin was involved or not,” Samnang said.

He said the defendants had the right to make another appeal to the Supreme Court within 30 days.

The judge also downplayed the effects of the reinvestigation order. “The accused persons have been released on bail, so it does not impact them,” Samnang said.

Chhin and Sothearin have also been charged for supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to national defense, which carries a potential jail sentence of up to 15 years. They have called for an end to their case so they can return to work and move on with their lives.

The pair were arrested on Nov. 14, 2017 and held in pretrial detention for nine months. They were released on bail and placed under judicial supervision on Aug. 21 last year.

On Oct. 3, rather than issue a verdict, the municipal court announced its decision to reinvestigate.

Outside the court, Sothearin said he was disappointed with the Appeal Court’s decision because he was not free while the case hung over him.

“The presiding judge said the investigating judge was trying to find justice for us, and he said that because we were release on bail, we are not impacted. But it is not actually true because even though we are out of prison we are still under pressure as a result of the conditions imposed by the court,” Sothearin said.

Sothearin added that he would discuss with his lawyer about whether to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The courts have not sought any additional information from him and Chhin since announcing the reinvestigation, he said, questioning what the reinvestigation was actually accomplishing.

“I think they intend to just keep us living like this,” Sothearin said.

Chhin called the reinvestigation an “injustice.”

“We just want to be done with this case so we can bring our children and wives to visit somewhere abroad,” Chhin said. His passport and ID card remained confiscated by the court, he said.

Soeng Senkaruna, spokesman for human rights group Adhoc, said he had monitored many cases involving politics, human rights activists and land activists, and the Appeal Court without exception rejected their requests. So it was unsurprising that Chhin and Sothearin’s appeal had also failed, Senkaruna said.

“We think that this is a severe injustice for them,” Senkaruna said. “The Appeal Court should consider their request.”

Last week, two statements — one by Human Rights Watch and another signed by 37 national and international organizations, including CamboJA — urged the court to drop the case, saying it was baseless and violated media freedoms.