Two former RFA reporters accused of “espionage” lost an appeal on Friday against court supervision, but learned that they will no longer have to show up at their local police station every month, in what their lawyer called a positive development despite the fact that their “freedom is not fully restored yet.”
Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin were taken into custody in November 2017 and charged with “illegally collecting information for a foreign source” under article 445 of the Criminal Code, an offense punishable by a prison term of 7 to 15 years.
While the pair were released on bail in August last year, the decision in March saw the two journalists placed under court supervision, which bars them from changing their addresses or traveling abroad, and required them to check in with their local police station once a month.
Both journalists have maintained that they are innocent of the charges against them, and say they will be vindicated if the case goes to trial. A date for the hearing has not been set.
At Friday’s Appeals Court hearing, Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin sought to have the court supervision lifted and the return of Uon Chhin’s professional video equipment so he could make a living again.
The Appeals Court dismissed those appeals, saying the requests didn’t comply with Cambodia’s laws, but said the two reporters no longer need to make monthly check-ins at the police station, because the investigation phase had been concluded in February.
The two men’s lawyer, Sam Chamroeun, told RFA’s Khmer Service that the hearing was beneficial to his clients it clarified that they no longer need to report to the police each month.
He added, however, that with the two reporters’ travel documents still being held by the court, “My clients’ freedom is not fully restored yet.”
Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin were never told back in February, when Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating judge Pech Vicheathor concluded the investigation and sent the case to trial, that they no longer needed to report to the police each month, said Sam Chamroeun.
They continued their monthly visits to the police station because “We were afraid they could have accused us of not complying with the court’s order,” he said,
Sam Chamroeun said he was disappointed that the court didn’t release Uon Chhin video equipment to allow him to go back to work after 18 months in legal limbo.
Yeang Sothearin told RFA that he is glad that he doesn’t have to show up at the police station, but wants to work with his lawyer to get back his passport and other items from the court.
Lawyer Sam Chamroeun told RFA he would seek the earliest possible trial date for his clients, arguing that human rights principles require that a trial should be scheduled no longer than three months after the investigation is concluded.
“If the trial doesn’t happen within more three months following the conclusion of the investigation, there will be negative impacts on my clients,” Sam Chamroeun said.
Yeang Sothearin also urged the court to speed up the trial process.
“I request to the court to speed up the trial process so that I can have my freedom and justice back,” he told RFA. “We can’t live peacefully without freedom,” he said.
On Thursday, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for their immediate release.
“The two former RFA journalists are victims of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s unending attack on media outlets that dare air critical reports about the government,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director.
“There’s no basis for the ludicrous charges against these two reporters or for forcing them into judicial supervision. The court should drop both the charges and supervision arrangements immediately.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Paul Eckert.