The UN working group on Arbitrary Detention on Monday described the deprivation of liberty of two former Radio Free Asia journalists as being arbitrary and called on the government to drop charges against them.
Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin were charged for undermining national defence after they were arrested in November 2017 and accused of sending intelligence reports to the United States, an allegation that they denied.
The pair were released on bail and placed under the court supervision last August after they spent about nine months in jail.
In a 12-page opinion note released on Monday, the UN working group outlined its fact-findings and verification over the case and charges against both men, noting that the government has not responded to earlier requests for clarification over the case and calls to drop charges and fully release both men.
The working group said it deemed their detention as being arbitrary because it was impossible to invoke any legal basis to justify their deprivation of liberty, adding that their detention resulted from the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of opinion and expression.
It also said that the action was considered arbitrary because there was a grave violation of their right to a fair trial.
In its opinion note, the UN working group pointed a serious concern that both men could be subject to re-arrest and further detention in the future.
LIVE: You are watching Khmer Times Cross-talk with guests Mr Yeang Sothearin and Mr Uon Chhin, former RFA reporters, sharing their thoughts on "Press Freedom Challenges" with Mr Kay Kimsong, Khmer Times COO.Brought to us by Huawei
Posted by Khmer Times on Monday, 7 January 2019
“The Cambodian government should take the steps necessary to remedy the situation of both men without delay and bring it into conformity with the relevant international norms,” the group said. “The appropriate remedy would be to release them unconditionally and accord them an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations.”
The working group also urged the government to ensure a full and independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding the pair’s loss of liberty and to take appropriate measures against those responsible for the violation of their rights.
Justice Ministry spokesman Kim Santepheap yesterday dismissed the group’s statements, noting that both men were placed in pre-trial detention following court procedures and only the judge has the right to drop charges.
“How confident is this report? It’s unclear what sources they’ve worked with,” he said. “If we look closely into the case, the detention is less than one year.”
Som Chamroeun, a lawyer representing both men, yesterday said he had filed an appeal for the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to free his clients.
“The appeal is to counter the decision of the court to place my clients under its supervision because I have found mistakes in its procedure,” he said. “I also requested the court to drop the charges against them in accordance with the evidence we offered earlier.”
Mr Chhin yesterday said both he and Mr Sothearin were facing a period of uncertainty while waiting for the municipal court to conclude its investigation and conduct a hearing.
“We are now under the court’s supervision. We have not obtained complete freedom. It’s difficult to find a job and to feed our family,” he said. “I hope the government or the court would drop the charges against us as soon as possible.”