Supreme Court hears cases of jailed RT fixer, former RFA journalists6 min read

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Former RFA journalists Yeang Sothearin, left, and Uon Chhin, right, and RT fixer Rath Rott Mony, center, leave the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh after a hearing on July 1. Panha Chhorpoan
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The Supreme Court on July 1 heard the appeal of jailed translator Rath Rott Mony who been sentenced to two years which is related to Moscow-based RT News’ sex-trafficking documentary.

Rott Mony, who was credited as being a producer but maintains that he was merely a translator for the film, was found guilty of incitement to discriminate and sentenced to two years in jail in June last year.

He was arrested in December 2018 over his role in “My Mother Sold Me,” a documentary by RT news service about sex trafficking of minors.As part of the guilty verdict, he was also ordered to pay plaintiffs Tep Salin and Keo Malay 35 million riel (about $8,750) each.

Standing aloneduring his trial at the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh, Rott Mony protested his innocence and asked the court to drop all charges against him.

“I have not committed the crime the courts have charged me with [incitement],” Rott Mony said. “It is very unjust, and it’s shameful for my family that I have been wrongly accused of committing this crime.”

His defense lawyer, Lor Chunthy, said during the trial he was disappointed that the lower courts had decided to convict his client of incitement to discriminate, and called the charges “unreasonable”.

“He is just a translator, because RT’s team is in charge of producing the video and publishing it on Youtube,” he said. “My client isn’t the one who published the video.”

He said there were no witnesses in the case file to prove his client was involved in committing the offense.

“We have seen the plaintiffs, but there were not any witnesses to verify whether he committed [the crime] or not,” Chunthy said.

“We want all parties to be present at the hearing, especially the RT team that is responsible for making the video,” he added.

However, Presiding Judge Kim Sathavy said that defendant Rott Mony’s work involved more than just translation. 

“His activity is not just a translator, but he was also a video producer,” she said.

“[We] saw the video was produced like a movie. It isn’t a video news [documentary]” she said, adding that a decision is due on July 15.

Chuon Chantha, deputy prosecutor general, said that he asked the council judges to uphold the decision made by the lower courts, insisting that the defendant had committed the crime.

“According to the answers of the plaintiffs, defendant Rott Mony had contacted [sex-trafficking] victims, and he was the person managing locations for the acting performances related to selling virginity,” he said. “So the court should consider upholding the verdict.”

Speaking outside the court,Rott Mony’s father, Thou Rath, 70, called on the Supreme Court to free his son, claiming he had not committed any offense and saying the case was politically motivated.

“It is unjust for my family because RT’s had issued a letter saying he is a translator,” he said.

Rott Mony’s wife, Long Kimheang, said on July 2 via messenger from Thailand, that she hopes the Supreme Court would rule in favor of her husband because he is innocent. 

“My husband is just a translator for Russia Today, which made [a film] talking about human trafficking in Cambodia,” she said.

Kimleang said that she had fled to Thailand in May 2019 due to political persecution and after she had received threats of arrest for her public protests demanding the release of her husband.

“For our safety and security, my son and I decided to flee Cambodia,” Kimheang said.

“My current situation is difficult, like other women in Cambodia whose husbands have been imprisoned by the government over politically motivated charges and for exercising their opinion,” she said.

Later the same day, the Supreme Court held a hearing for two former Radio Free Asia (RFA) reporters, Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, who are callingfor a reinvestigation of pornography production charges against them to be dropped. The charges were added in March 2018 to existing charges of spying for a foreign source. 

Sam Chamroeun, the lawyer for the pair, said that the lower courts’ move to reinvestigate the charges against the journalists was “a decision with unclear reasons,” and he asked the highest court to drop all charges against them.

“It is affecting the rights of my client that the court has taken so long to conduct a reinvestigation,” he said. “Please, consider acquitting them of the charges.”

Sothearin and Chhin are charged with supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to national defense, apparently for continuing to supply articles to U.S. run Radio Free Asia after its Phnom Penh offices had closed inSeptember 2017 amid heightened pressure on independent media in Cambodia. Dozens more radio stations were shut down and The Cambodia Daily newspaper was also forced to close due to a disputed tax bill.

The pairwas arrested later that yearand were originally charged with supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to national defense under Article 445 of the Criminal Code, which carries a prison term of seven to 15 years.

Chhin told reporters after the hearing that court officials had continued to unfairly link his case with political motivations.

“It is persecution against me because I used to work at Radio Free Asia,” he said. “I would be free if the court wasn’t considering this as a political issue,” he said.

 Nop Vy, executive director at the Cambodian Journalist Alliance, expressed concern over the courts’ continual use of the Criminal Code to restrictjournalists.

“As we have seen, there are many cases in which journalists had a complaint filed against them, and they never acquit journalists of the charges,” he said. 

He said that recently, more journalists have been arrested for sharing their opinions on Facebook.

“It shows the restrictions on journalists who are carrying out their duties,” Vy said. “Press freedom and freedom of expression in Cambodia still have a very bad image.”

“I ask the court to consider and review the principles of international laws regarding freedom of expression, and especially the Cambodian Constitution in supporting the freedom of the press,” he said.

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) on July 1 said that the cases of Chhin, Sothearin, and Rott Mony exposed a concerning disregard for media freedom in Cambodia, calling the cases “judicial harassment.”

Chak Sopheap, executive director at CCHR, said via email that Chinn and Sothearin, who spent over nine months in pre-trial detention, had been arbitrarily arrested, detained and charged for peacefully exercising their freedom of expression, and for their work as investigative journalists on issues of social justice.

“They remain in limbo without a definitive verdict to their case [for] over two and a half years” since their arrest on November 14, 2017, she said.

“We are witnessing a very concerning trend of media outlets and journalists being targeted for their legitimate and important work,” Sopheap added.

“We must protect the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and information which are guaranteed under Cambodian and international law,” she said. “Press freedom is a crucial component of these rights, as well as being vital to a healthy democracy.”

A verdict will be announced in both cases on July 15.

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