Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

RFA journalists maintain innocence as they appeal reinvestigation

Former rfa reporters at the appeal court. Stringer

Two former Radio Free Asia journalists on Monday asked the Appeal Court to reject the reinvestigation of their case as ordered by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in October.

Presiding Judge Plang Samnang heard the appeal over whether to reinvestigate the pornography charges against Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, and announced that a decision would be issued on Dec. 30.

Chhin and Sothearin have also been charged for supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to national defense.

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.

After the Appeal Court hearing, Sothearin told reporters outside the court that the judge had asked them about procedures and on what grounds they thought the Appeal Court should overturn the lower court’s reinvestigation order.

Sothearin said the pair maintained that they had done nothing wrong, but if they had made a mistake according to the law, this should be clear by now with no need to reinvestigate.

Chhin said he hoped the Appeal Court would strike down the reinvestigation and grant him and Sothearin freedom.

“I think we are victims of a political situation,” Chhin said.

Chhin and Sothearin were arrested amid heightened pressure on news media in Cambodia in 2017, when dozens of radio stations were shuttered and a disputed tax bill forced the closure of The Cambodia Daily. The U.S. state-run Radio Free Asia also closed its Phnom Penh office.

Sam Chamroeun, a lawyer for Chhin and Sothearin, said his clients’ case was not complicated, and there was no need for it to continue to be dragged out.

“It affects my clients’ rights,” Chamroeun said.

Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, urged the court to drops the charges against Chhin and Sothearin.

“We hope that the court will stand on the principle of justice and guarantee their right to receive a hearing,” Sopheap said. During the pair’s trial earlier this year, there had not been enough evidence presented to find them guilty, she said.

A joint statement signed by 37 national and international organizations — including CamboJA — also urged the court to drop the case.

The statement, issued on Sunday, also called for the government to take action to cease the harassment, threats, discrimination, intimidation and arbitrary detention against journalists.

Human Rights Watch on Monday also issued a statement criticizing the case against Chhin and Sothearin as baseless.

“Cambodia’s persecution of journalists is sending a message that independent, investigative reporting is not only unwelcome, but could get you thrown in jail,” the New York-based group’s deputy Asia director, Phil Robertson, said. “The European Union and other foreign governments should publicly call for these charges to be dismissed and urge the government to allow journalists to do their jobs without harassment.”

Human Rights Watch also called on the Rattanakiri Provincial Court to drop all charges against former Cambodia Daily journalists Aun Pheap and Zsombor Peter, who have a hearing scheduled on Dec. 25. Both journalists have left the country after incitement charges were brought against them in 2017 for reporting on commune elections that year.

Reporters Without Borders on Dec. 16 said a total of 49 journalists were killed worldwide this year, with 389 currently in prison and 57 being held hostage.

“Journalism remains a dangerous profession but the number of journalists killed this year is at its lowest in 16 years,” the group said. The drop in deaths of the result of a fall in the number of journalists killed in war zones, it said.