WASHINGTON – The Bangkok Post today published an opinion piece by Radio Free Asia (RFA) President Libby Liu calling for an end to the “pointless persecution” of two former RFA journalists in Cambodia, while addressing broader press freedom issues in the country. Liu’s op-ed, “Hun Sen's Media Witch-Hunt Must End (11/11)” comes on the week of the two-year anniversary arrest of Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin, who were taken into custody on Nov. 14, 2017. Though their trial ended in August 2019 without a verdict, they still face charges, including “espionage” in connection for allegedly working for RFA after it was forced to close its Phnom Penh bureau in September 2017.
“Two years after their arrest on outlandish charges of ‘espionage,’ two of Cambodia’s finest journalists are snared by a government assault on free expression,” Liu states in the piece. “The prosecution of Chhin, a cameraman, and Sothearin, an editor and anchor, has proceeded despite a dearth of evidence.
“It undermines the high-minded declaration of the Cambodian government in December that it ‘cherishes’ a free press and that RFA would be welcome to re-open its in-country bureau.”
Sothearin and Chhin were freed on bail in August 2018, after being detained nine months. But Cambodian authorities still pursued their prosecution and they were put on trial in the summer of 2019. In May 2019, after Reporters Without Borders referred the case to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the group concluded that their detention was unmerited. After their verdict was delayed twice following the conclusion of their trial in early August 2019, on Oct. 3, the presiding judge ordered a “reinvestigation” – effectively reopening the case despite there being insufficient evidence for a conviction. The move was decried by rights groups and others, including 37 civil society organizations – such as Amnesty International, IFEX and a number of Cambodian NGOs – that made a joint statement condemning the continued investigation of the two men. Members of the U.S. Congress have repeatedly called for charges to be dropped. Last week, a bipartisan U.S. Senate resolution on Cambodia was introduced, calling for an end to “judicial harassment” of journalists, citing Sothearin and Chhin’s ordeal. The two men recently appealed the decision to reinvestigate their case.