Former RFA reporter receives his passport back from Cambodian court

'This is the day I was hoping for for a long time,' said Yeang Sothearin, whose family lives in Vietnam.
By RFA Khmer
Former RFA reporter receives his passport back from Cambodian court Yeang Sothearin shows his passport after receiving it from the Cambodian Supreme Court.
Credit: Citizen journalist

Cambodia’s Supreme Court on Friday returned the passport of former Radio Free Asia Khmer news anchor Yeang Sothearin, opening the door to his visiting his father and sister – both of whom are ailing – in Vietnam. 

His passport was seized when he was taken into custody in November 2017, along with Uon Chhin, an RFA photographer and videographer. They were charged with “illegally collecting information for a foreign source” after RFA closed its bureau in the capital of Phnom Penh in September of that year amid a government crackdown on independent media. 

“This is the day I was hoping for for a long time,” Yeang Sothearin said. "I am very happy that I got my passport back. It's been five years. I haven't seen my parents and relatives.” 

He said his sister is dying from an illness and that he plans to leave Cambodia to visit her and the rest of his family on Saturday. Yeang Sothearin and his family are part of the ethnic Khmer Krom community in Vietnam.

Earlier in June, a lower court in Cambodia denied Yeang Sothearin’s request to get his passport back, and at the time, he told RFA that he intended to appeal the decision to the country’s highest court. At the time, he was worried the decision would make him unable to visit his family for a long time. 

Since their arrest, the two former RFA journalists have been charged with additional crimes. They face between seven and 15 years if convicted of the first charge. 

Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin are out on bail, but they remain in legal limbo after several courts have rejected a series of appeals. The Supreme Court heard Yeang Sothearin’s case on Oct. 26 and was scheduled to issue a verdict on the issue of his passport on Nov. 2 but released the decision Friday instead. 

Presiding Judge Kong Srim issued a verdict citing the case’s long delay since 2017, adding that Yeang Sothearin has cooperated with the court and that his sister's health is in critical condition. However, the judge warned that if Yeang Sothearin tries to avoid the court in the future, he will be re-arrested.

Speaking to RFA, Yeang Sothearin said that he believed the court’s decision resulted from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal intervention. 

Nop Vy, the Executive Director of the nonprofit CamboJa, told RFA that it welcomed the decision and urged the court to consider dropping all cases against journalists.

Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Nawar Nemeh.


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