CPJ Report Highlights Threats to RFA Journalists, Former Staff

cambodia-yeang-sothearin-and-uon-chhin-crop.jpg Yeang Sothearin (L) and Uon Chhin (R), in undated photos.

WASHINGTON – More than half of the countries in Radio Free Asia’s target broadcast region are listed among the world’s worst jailers of journalists in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ special report for 2017. The report cites China, Cambodia, and Vietnam -- countries that have imprisoned Radio Free Asia (RFA) current and former journalists, as well as contributors and sources. RFA President Libby Liu said the report’s findings underscore not only the threats to free press, but also the importance of RFA’s work and independent journalism in these countries and around the world.

“Cambodia, Vietnam, and China persecute and make examples of journalists and sources who challenge the narratives of the ruling regimes,” Liu said. “By resorting to desperate measures, these countries unwittingly highlight the impact and importance of a free press.

“The situation in Cambodia, where two former RFA journalists have been charged with espionage, is especially egregious. Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin severed ties to RFA after our bureau was forced to close in September. Yet two months later they were arrested and charged, and they now wait in prison as a Cambodian court pursues what could be a months-long quest to assemble evidence for the prosecution. It’s an absolute outrage.

“In Vietnam, RFA contributors like Nguyen Van Hoa and Mother Mushroom have both been sentenced to jail and other correspondents are routinely stopped and searched, while their families are questioned and harassed by police.

“In China, authorities detain and charge rights activists, citizen journalists, and family members who provide information or comments to RFA.

“None of these individuals deserves to be imprisoned or face the might of authoritarian legal systems. Nor should their families and loved ones be forced to suffer at the hands of authorities. These acts of intimidation should cease and these individuals should be freed, without charges and without delay.

“RFA thanks CPJ, RSF, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Frontline Defenders, and other global media rights groups for their sustained efforts to keep pressure on the international community to act.”

In Cambodia, former RFA journalists Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin from its Khmer Service, which was forced to close its Phnom Penh bureau in September, were arrested and are facing charges of “espionage.” The two are being held at Prey Sar Prison in Phnom Penh. If tried and convicted, they face up to 15 years in prison. In Vietnam, video journalist and RFA contributor Nguyen Van Hoa was sentenced in November to seven years in prison for reporting on the 2016 chemical spill that devastated the country’s central coast. Days after Nguyen’s sentencing, blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known also as Mother Mushroom, lost her appeal of her 10-year prison sentence for her posts on Facebook about human rights and other underreported issues in Vietnam. According to CPJ’s updated database, China has 41 reporters and bloggers currently in prison, making it among the world’s biggest jailers of journalists. CPJ also documents how medical neglect in Chinese prisons often amounts to a “death sentence” for jailed journalists. While no RFA journalists or sources have been arrested in Myanmar, the country has three reporters jailed and recently stepped up restrictions on media.

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