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Detention of RFA reporters upheld

Khuon Narim / Khmer Times Share:
The espionage charges could land the reporters in jail for up to 15 years. KT/Mai Vireak

The Court of Appeal yesterday upheld a lower court decision to continue the detention of two former Radio Free Asia reporters who remain jailed on espionage charges for allegedly sending reports to the United States.

The two former RFA reporters, Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, filed an appeal to nullify their detention because they said the procedure by the judicial police was wrong.

Presiding Judge Phou Povsun announced the verdict, saying that the Appeal Court upheld the decision of Phnom Penh Municipal Court to continue the detention of Mr Chhin and Mr Sothearin, who were not present for the decision.

Keo Vanny, a lawyer for the two journalists, was also absent for the decision, but sent his assistant Oeun Hun to the court.

Mr Hun quoted Judge Povsun as saying that “the detention made by judicial police is legal in accordance with articles 95 and 379 of the Criminal Code of Procedure”.

“Accused person Uon Chhin was detained for 42 hours and 35 minutes and Yeang Sothearin was detained for 42 hours and 5 minutes,” the judge added, according to Mr Hun.

Mr Vanny said prior to yesterday’s verdict that his appeal was based upon the fact that their detention at the police station was over 48 hours.

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 awaiting their trial.

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

On March 29, Phnom Penh Municipal Court also charged them with producing pornography in addition to the espionage charges.

The added charge carries a prison sentence of up to one year in prison, while the espionage charges could land the pair in jail for seven to 15 years.

RFA 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.

The two reporters 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.

Speaking to a reporter after the verdict yesterday, Mr Sothearin’s wife, Lam Chenda, 38, decried the decision, saying that she was very disappointed.

“It is unjust for my husband because he has not committed the charge and there is no evidence against him,” Ms Chenda said.

Meanwhile, 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 the charges have hampered free press within the country and that a free press is a cornerstone to any democratic society.

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