The Supreme Court on July 15 sent the case of RT fixer Rath Rott Mony for retrial after finding that the Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold his conviction for incitement was incorrect.
Rott Mony was arrested in December 2018 over his role in a documentary by Russia’s RT news service about sex trafficking of minors in Cambodia, for which he was credited as a producer but maintains that he was merely a translator. He was found guilty of incitement to discriminate and sentenced to two years in jail in June last year.
Reading out the verdict at a hearing on July 1, Presiding Judge Kim Sathavy said that the Court of Appeal was incorrect in its decision to convict Rott Mony.
“The Supreme Court considers that the Court of Appeal had made an incorrect decision, so [the Supreme Court] has decided to reject the verdict of the Appeal Court and return the case of defendant Rath Rott Mony for retrial, at the Court of Appeal,”she said.
Judge Sathavy did not provide further explanation in the courtroom.
The film over which Rott Mony was jailed, titled “My Mother Sold Me,” was released last year and told the story of three young girls who were supposedly sold for sex by their mothers.
In the waiting room at the court after his hearing, Rott Mony said the ruling had been unexpected.
“I am surprised that the court has considered that the Court of Appeal made the wrong decision,” he told reporters.
“I hope that the Court of Appeal will acquit me of the charges against me,” Rott Mony said, adding that his jail term was due to finish in December 2020.
Rott Mony’s wife Long Kimheang said via messenger after the hearing that it was unjust for her husband to remain behind bars after the Supreme Court had ordered a retrial.
“For me, if the Supreme Court has turned down the Appeal Courts’ conviction, then why doesn’t the court release my husband?” she asked.
However, she said she had hope that the Court of Appeal would be able to provide justice for her husband.
“Please, Court of Appeal, speed up the procedure for the trial to avoid keeping him behind bars while they have said they wrongly convicted him,” she said.
Lor Chunthy, the defense lawyer for Rott Mony, welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling to turn down a decision by lower courts, calling it “a positive sign” that his client may receive justice.
“RT teams were in-charge of everything [in the video documentary] and my client’s role was just as a translator and to facilitate work with the authorities” he said.
Chunthy said that there was no evidence inculpating Rott Mony of the incitement charge against him. He added that the articles in the Criminal Code dealing with incitement specify that the crime can only occur through speeches made in a public place, in writings distributed to the public, or by audio-visual communication to the public.
He also said that there was a loophole in the case because authorities had failed to bring to court for testimony a woman featured in the documentary who had told Radio Free Asia in an interview that her role in the documentary “is my true story”.
“Authorities didn’t find her to verify at court, so it is also a sensitive part of this case,” Chunthy said.
Yi Soksan, a senior investigator at rights group Adhoc, who monitored the procedures at the hearing said he was disappointed that the highest court had decided to send the case for a retrial because it would prolong the procedure, affecting the defendant’s freedom.
“It is unjust for the defendant [Rott Mony] because he hopes that the highest court could make a decision to acquit him of the charges and suspend the sentence upon seeing that the lower courts did not make the correct decision,” he said.
“It has affected the defendant’s freedom,” Soksan said, adding that the translator had already served about two-thirds of his jail term and should be either acquitted or granted bail.
In a separate case, the Supreme Court decided to uphold the Appeal Court’s decision to reinvestigate pornography production charges against two former Radio Free Asia reporters, Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin.
In a hearing early this month, the two former reporters had asked the court to drop its reinvestigation of the charges.
“The decision made by the Court of Appeal is correct, so the Supreme Court decided to uphold the verdict of the lower courts,” Judge Sathavy said.
Sothearin and Chhin were initially 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 in September 2017 amid heightened pressure on independent media in Cambodia.
The original charge, for which the two were arrested in late 2017, carries a prison term of seven to 15 years. The additional charge for producing pornography was added in March 2018.
Sothearin told reporters outside the court July 15 that he was disappointed that the court was continuing its investigation of the case despite providing no evidence against him in the nearly three years since his arrest.
“It will impact the public’s trust in the court system, especially our rights of freedom during the past three years,” he said.
“Yes, I think that they [the government] have intended to seek revenge on us for [reporting] we had done in the past,” Sothearin said. “I have always thought that the arrest was meant to threaten independent journalists,” he said.
He added that the charges against himself and Chhin were likely politically motivated because of the proximity of their arrests to the 2018 national election.
Nop Vy, executive director at Cambodian Journalists Alliance has called on the court to free RT fixer Ratt Rott Mony and to drop the charges against the two former reporters for RFA, noting that it would improve the court’s standing in the public eye.
“It has seriously affected [Rott Mony’s] freedom as a citizen,” he said. “He has been serving a jail term for over a year, so I think that the court should uphold the important freedoms and rights of a citizen.”
Vy said that for the two former reporters for RFA, “Their case remains as a threat to the professional journalists who are carrying out their reporting duties or who are critical of the government’s activities.”