The verdict in the trial of two former Radio Free Asia journalists charged with espionage and the production of pornography will be announced on Oct 3, Cambodia’s Ministry of Justice and the reporters' lawyer, Sam Chamroeun, told RFA's Khmer Service on Monday.
The trial of Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin concluded on Aug. 9 and a verdict was expected on Aug. 30, but it was indefinitely delayed, with the judge saying he was busy in a workshop at the ministry of justice.
“I hope the news of upcoming verdict announcement on October 3rd will truly happen and we hope that the court will give true justice to both of us,” Yeang Sothearin told RFA.
“Then our names will be cleared on that day and we will be freed,” he added.
Cambodian Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin also confirmed that the verdict would be announced on Oct. 3.
Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin were taken into custody in November 2017 and charged with “illegally collecting information for a foreign source” under Article 445 of the Criminal Code. They have since had production of pornography added to the charges against them and face a prison term of from seven to 15 years.
Both journalists have maintained that they are innocent of the charges against them, and say they will be vindicated through the courts, while local and international rights groups have condemned their arrests as part of a wider attack on the media in Cambodia and called for their release.
Am Sam Ath of the local human rights group Licadho said all criminal cases should feature a speedy trial and verdict. He urged the court to issue a verdict without delay and drop charges against two former journalists, who he said were innocent.
“In order to promote press freedom, I hope that the municipal court will announce the verdict on Oct. 3 and drop charges against them so they can perform their professional duties,” he said.
RFA closed its nearly 20-year-old bureau in Phnom Penh on Sept. 12, 2017 amid the crackdown by Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) that also saw the Supreme Court dissolve the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) a month later, paving the way for the CPP to sweep the ballot last year.
The arrest of Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin came after a warning from Cambodia’s Ministries of Information and Interior that any journalists still working for RFA after its office in the capital closed would be treated as spies.
They were released on bail in August last year, but were placed under court supervision, which barred them from changing their addresses or traveling abroad, and required them to check in with their local police station once a month.
Cambodian journalists working for RFA had reported over the years on corruption, illegal logging, and forced evictions, among other stories largely ignored by pro-government media, and authorities had already closed independent radio stations carrying RFA reports, using a pretext of tax and administrative violations.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders ranked Cambodia 142nd out of 180 countries in its 2018 World Press Freedom Index, down from 132nd in 2017, citing the crackdown on independent media in the lead up to last year’s election.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Vannarith Im. Written in English by Paul Eckert.