Local journalists have launched an online campaign calling on the courts to consider dropping charges against two former Radio Free Asia journalists, Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, who were arrested by authorities in November.
In an open letter published on the Change.org website, Cambodian journalists expressed concern over the serious charges laid against the two former RFA reporters.
It stated that in a democratic society, the press played an important role in providing the truth to citizens, while journalists also played a key role in reporting facts to the public.
“We think the allegation related to supplying information prejudicial to national defence is severe. The allegation against the two former reporters is causing fear to journalists who are doing their profession and is making the press freedom in Cambodia decline,” the letter said.
The two former RFA reporters were arrested at the Marady Hotel on November 14 in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district.
According to the police report, Mr Chhin said the establishment of the studio was to record karaoke songs and take wedding photographs only, and not for secretly producing news for RFA.
After their arrests, Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s prosecutor charged both of them with espionage for supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to national defence. The two face from seven to 15 years in prison if found guilty.
Information Ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng said local journalists should not campaign to demand the charges against the former RFA reporters be dropped since that violated the court’s jurisdiction.
“The opinion of journalists is a right that can be expressed, but to force the court to comply with their will is wrong. I think it is better to wait and see the trial process of the court first,” he said.
Keo Vanny, a defence lawyer for the accused journalists, claimed he had already tried to advocate by legal means twice, asking the court to free his clients on bail, but his request was rejected.
In late December, he filed an appeal complaint asking the Supreme Court to release his clients, but the court has still not taken any action.
He urged the court to release his clients on temporary bail because Mr Sothearin had not been involved in anything requiring his detention, and Mr Chhin only had material used to run the studio for work purposes after he quit RFA.
“I have advocated through the court to release my clients on bail temporarily because the charges on the two are unjustified. According to the documents and the questioning of my client, it is not related with the charges,” said Mr Vanny.