Tboung Khmum province’s regional court of appeal on Tuesday upheld a lower court’s decision to drop the incitement charges against former Cambodia Daily journalists Aun Pheap and Zsombor Peter.
Regional appeals court spokesman Tum Sophorn said that unless the prosecutor filed an appeal against the decision, the case against the two reporters would end here.
“According to procedure [the prosecutor] can appeal, and if he doesn’t file an appeal, that case will be completed,” he said.
In November last year, the Ratanakkiri provincial court dropped the charges against the former Daily reporters after plaintiff Ramam Yout withdrew his complaint against the two men.
The reporting pair—well known for their investigative stories on illegal logging and other environmental issues—were in the province’s Pate commune in June 2017 to report on why the constituency had been an opposition stronghold.
Yout, the then-Sam Rainsy Party commune chief, was unhappy with their line of questioning and filed an incitement to commit felony complaint against the reporters. The pair’s routine election coverage quickly turned into a 30-month legal ordeal for the two reporters, both of whom have since left the country.
Pheap, who now lives in the US awaiting the processing of his asylum application, said the court had made the right decision.
“Yes, that is right because I have done nothing wrong,” he told CamboJA via social media on Tuesday evening. “No matter which country wants to try [my case], they cannot find me guilty because I did nothing.”
“I am happy to hear that the court will not continue to carry out the procedure anymore,” Pheap said.
Sek Sophorn, the defense lawyer representing both reporters, has applauded the news.
“I think that the court has provided justice to my clients, because reporters Aun Pheap and Zsomber Peter had carried out their professional journalism,” he said.
Nop Vy, executive director at the Cambodia Journalist Alliance Association (CamboJA), welcomed the higher court’s decision.
“For me, I think it should be time that journalists can carry out their jobs and avoid being accused under the criminal code,” he said.
Ith Sothoeuth, media director at the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, said that the decision was a good sign for independent journalists.
“I hope that the court will close that case, and that both reporters receive justice as soon as possible by the court not continuing its procedure in the Supreme Court,” he said.
In 2017, the Cambodia Daily was forced to shut down after refusing to pay an exorbitant tax bill. Weeks later, Radio Free Asia announced the shuttering of its Phnom Penh bureau owing to security concerns and tax issues. The Phnom Penh Post was sold in May 2018 to a Malaysian investor, whose public relations firm had worked for the Cambodian government.