Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

RFA journalists’ espionage verdict delayed

Two former RFA at Phnom Penh municipal court today. Panha Chhorpoan

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday delayed issuing a verdict against two Radio Free Asia journalists charged with espionage.

Oun Chhin and Yeang Sothearin were arrested in November 2017 and charged with “illegally providing information to a foreign state” under Article 445 of the Criminal Code. They have since had production of pornography added to the charges against them and face a prison term of seven to 15 years.

Sothearin told reporters outside the municipal court building on Friday that court clerk Vun Socheat had announced the delay at the scheduled session, saying the case’s presiding judge was busy joining a meeting at the Justice Ministry.

“I am concerned about my freedom because we cannot do anything,” Sothearin said.

If the court acquitted him, he would return to working as a journalist with the aim of contributing to Cambodian society, he said.

“I request that the court announce the verdict for my case quickly because if the court delays my case for a long time, it would affect my freedom more,” he said.

Chhin also said the court’s delay was prolonging his inability to plan his future and return to work.

“This delay keeps me in doubt and we don’t know what’s going to happen next. It makes me not have the freedom to do any work or go anywhere,” Chhin said. “I especially want to return to working as a journalist.”

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

During the trial in July and beginning of August, Chhin and Sothearin had asked the judge to drop all charges and return their confiscated possessions, including their passports, saying they did not commit anything wrong.

Soeng Senkaruna, spokesman of human rights group Adhoc, said Chhin and Sothearin needed to be able to plan for their futures.

“This delay affects their time and freedom because they cannot do any work,” Senkaruna said.

Senkaruna added that most NGOs observing the case had not seen any inculpating evidence against the pair, and would consider a guilty verdict against them an injustice.

Presiding Judge Im Vannak could not be reached for comment on Friday.

In July, Rohit Mahajan, vice president of communications and external relations at Radio Free Asia, also called for an end to the court actions.

“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,” Mahajan said in a statement. “The Phnom Penh Court Municipal Court can rectify this unnecessary and troubling situation by dismissing the case and all charges against them without delay.”