Phnom Penh Municipal Court has charged two former RFA journalists with producing pornography, in addition to espionage charges they already face for filing reports to the US-funded radio station, their lawyer said yesterday.
Radio Free Asia shuttered its operations within the country last year as the government cracked down on multiple media organisations for not complying with tax laws and Information Ministry registration laws.
A Cambodian rights group described the new charges against former RFA journalists Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin as another attack on the free press.
Their lawyer, Keo Vanny, said the court had informed him of the pornography charges on Wednesday. They had committed no such crime, he said. The charge carries a prison sentence of up to one year in prison.
Local media have published pixelated images of people in sexual positions and said that they are related to the case, but the accused are not identifiable in any of the images.
Court spokesman Ly Sophanna and RFA did not respond to requests for comment.
Rights groups have condemned the detention of the men, who were arrested in November and charged with espionage for filing reports to RFA. They deny the accusation and say they were just doing their job.
Chak Sopheap, executive director at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the pornography charges appeared aimed at destroying the pair’s reputations.
“This entire prosecution should be seen for what it is: a blatant attempt to limit press freedom, and to silence and intimidate all independent journalists in Cambodia who dare to speak and reveal the truth,” she said.
Mr Chhin and Mr 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.
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.
Earlier this week, the Court of Appeal heard an appeal to nullify the detention of the former reporters.
Presiding Judge Phou Povsun announced that the verdict would be delivered next week.
Defence lawyer Mr Vanny said after the hearing 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.”