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Court hears RFA reporters’ appeal

Khy Sovuthy / Khmer Times Share:
Yeang Sothearin at Phnom Penh Municipal Court. KT/Chor Sokunthea

The Court of Appeal yesterday heard an appeal to nullify the detention of two former Radio Free Asia reporters who remain jailed on espionage charges for allegedly sending reports to the United States.

Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin were arrested in Phnom Penh’s Marady Hotel on November 14 and accused of espionage. They are currently being detained at Prey Sar prison pending their trial.

Presiding Judge Phou Povsun announced that the verdict would be delivered next week.

“The Appeal Court will announce the verdict on April 4, 2018,” he said, declining further comment.

Appeal Court spokesman Touch Tharith could not be reached for comment.

Mr Chhin and Mr Sothearin arrived at the Appeal Court at about 8.15am and were escorted by prison guards as they exited the van for the courtroom.

Keo Vanny, defence lawyer for Mr Chhin and Mr Sothearin, said by phone after the hearing yesterday that the presiding judge allowed his clients to give their appeal reasons during the hearing.

“We appealed because their detention at the police station was over 48 hours,” Mr Vanny said. “I cannot comment in detail because this was a private hearing.”

On March 16, the Supreme Court denied bail to Mr Sothearin and Mr Chhin, upholding an Appeal Court decision to continue their pre-trial detention.

The men worked for RFA’s Khmer-language service until the US-funded media outlet shut its Phnom Penh bureau on September 12 last year, citing government repression and the forced closure of its FM radio broadcasts.

They have been charged under Article 445 of the Criminal Code which covers providing information to foreign states or agents which can “undermine national defence”.

If convicted they face prison sentences of between seven and 15 years. No trial date has been set.

Local journalists have launched an online campaign calling on the court to drop the charges.

In an open letter, dozens of Cambodian journalists said that charges have hampered free press within the country and that a free press is a cornerstone to any democratic society. Phnom Penh deputy police chief Sim Vuthy said after the arrests that the reporters were continuing to make reports to RFA in the US after its operations within the country were closed.

“They can face the charge of supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to national defence,” he said at the time.

RFA had earlier shuttered its operations within the country as the government cracked down on multiple media organisations for not complying with tax laws and Information Ministry registration laws.

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