International and national NGOs have marked the six-month anniversary of the arrest of two former Radio Free Asia journalists by asking the courts to free them immediately.
Human Rights Watch said yesterday that authorities should drop fabricated espionage charges against Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin and release them.
Their arrests on November 14, 2017, were part of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ongoing crackdown on the media, civil society groups, and the political opposition, the group said.
“Ahead of July’s national elections, Prime Minister Hun Sen has been filling Cambodia’s prisons with journalists, activists, and politicians,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“In its reprisals against RFA for its critical reporting, the government has concocted absurd espionage charges against former journalists Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, who should be freed immediately.”
The arrests of Mr Sothearin and Mr Chhin came two months after RFA closed its Cambodian office citing government repression and the silencing of its FM broadcasts.
Both face up to 15 years imprisonment. No evidence has been made public, their bail applications have been rejected and a trial date has still not been set.
The Association of Southeast Asian Press Alliance also said the pair were detained on groundless charges and should be released.
On April 3, the Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s decision to continue the detention of the pair on spying charges for allegedly sending reports to the United States.
Mr Chhin and Mr Sothearin had appealed against their detention on the grounds that the procedure by the judicial police was wrong.
They had been arrested in Phnom Penh’s Marady Hotel and are being detained at Prey Sar prison pending their trial.
On March 29, Phnom Penh Municipal Court also charged them with producing pornography.
The wives of Mr Chhin and Mr Sothearin also called on the courts and international and national NGOs to help win their husbands’ release because they had done nothing wrong.
“Please the court and international and national NGOs help my husband because he just opened a small business to feed his family and he does not get involved with politics,” Mr Chhin’s wife Heng Sina said.
Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said the requests were just a show of freedom of expression, but would not heavily influence the courts which made decisions based on the evidence and documents.
“So if they want to help them they need to take part in the court’s procedure,” Mr Malin said.
Keo Vanny, a lawyer representing Mr Chhin and Mr Sothearin said he welcomed and was happy for anyone who joined in to help his clients.
“I am working hard to allow them to be released on bail,” Mr Vanny said.