WASHINGTON - The circumstances under which Radio Free Asia closed its office in Cambodia have become a topic of scrutiny in the ongoing trial at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court of former RFA journalists Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin. With the trial due to resume on Friday, RFA would like to reiterate that it considers the charges brought against Chhin and Sothearin to be unsubstantiated and issue the following statement:
“Government pressure and threats led to an abrupt closure of Radio Free Asia’s Phnom Penh bureau on Sept. 12, 2017, in a serious setback to freedom of the press in Cambodia. The situation RFA faced that week was sudden and panicked. We had to wind up in a few days a news operation that had been running for nearly 20 years. Dozens of local journalists and staff lost their jobs. In the midst of this, RFA had to maintain its daily news report that continued to be broadcast from our headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“Without any due process, the government was declaring journalism by RFA in Cambodia to be illegal. We maintain that in a democratic society, reporting the news should not be a crime. Contracts with our local staff were actually valid until Sept. 30, and RFA has records of just one published story that was filed by Chhin or Sothearin in the week the bureau closed. That was on Sept. 15, three days after the closure. On the very same day that story was published, the government said that RFA was still entitled to cover a news conference it held in Phnom Penh.
“So not only did the government declare journalism by RFA to be illegal, it sowed confusion in its own public statements on the matter. This has culminated in the unjust prosecution of two of Cambodia’s most dedicated, independent journalists for simply doing their job to provide reliable information to the Cambodian public.”