Cambodia’s Top Court Rejects Ex-RFA Reporters’ Plea to Drop Probe of Espionage Charges

cambodia-uon-chhin-yeang-sothearin-oct-2020.jpeg Uon Chhin (L) and Yeang Sothearin (R) meet with reporters outside the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh, Oct. 27, 2020.

Cambodia’s top court on Tuesday threw out a request by two former RFA reporters to halt an investigation into charges of espionage, keeping restrictions placed on the pair as part of their bail agreement in place, nearly three years after they were first arrested.

Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin—who had worked as an editor, reporter and news anchor, and a photographer and videographer for RFA’s Khmer Service, respectively—were taken into custody in November 2017.

They were charged with “illegally collecting information for a foreign source” after RFA closed its bureau in the capital in September that year and were slapped with additional charges for illegally produced pornography in March 2018. If convicted of the first charge, they could face a jail term of between seven and 15 years.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the two reporters to halt a reinvestigation into the espionage case, allowing a new investigation into those charges to proceed as ordered by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. The court did not provide any reason for its decision.

Yeang Sothearin told RFA’s Khmer Service that the presiding judge had said during the proceedings that the lower court’s order to reinvestigate the charges was “valid.”

He called the ruling “unfair,” noting that he and Uon Chhin will continue to face restrictions placed on them as part of their bail agreement that have restricted their right to travel and ability to find work. He also slammed the courts for conducting such a lengthy investigation of their cases.

“The court decision today has ignored the advantage of defendants,” he said.

“When the court can’t find evidence against the defendants, it should give them the benefit of the doubt.”

Yeang Sothearin said that following Tuesday’s decision, he plans to work with his lawyer to push the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to speed up its reinvestigation.

In July, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by the pair to prevent a reinvestigation into the pornography case. The court also did not provide a reason for that decision.

Am Sam Ath, senior investigator with local rights group Licadho, told RFA he was disappointed by Tuesday’s ruling.

“The court has spent a lot of time on this already and I believe it is appropriate to call an end to it,” he said.

“The delay [in serving justice] will affect their freedom. We don’t know when the court will finish the investigation.”

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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