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RFA duo’s spy case reopened

Taing Vida / Khmer Times Share:
Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin speak with the media outside the court. KT/Pann Rachana

Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday ruled that the espionage case against two former Radio Free Asia journalists has to be re-investigated, with an unscheduled verdict.

Presiding Judge Im Vannak said the court requires an investigating judge to analyse the case and review all evidence collected earlier before it reaches a decision whether or not Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin would be found guilty.

Judge Vannak said Investigating Judge Pich Vicheathor will be re-assigned to question Mr Chhin, Mr Sothearin and others involved and once again review all information.

However, he did not elaborate when a verdict is due.

After hearings in July and August, Judge Vannak announced that the verdict would be given on August 30, but it was delayed when he had to attend a Justice Ministry meeting that day. Later, it was announced that the verdict was due yesterday.

Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom yesterday, both Mr Chhin and Mr Sothearin decried the proceedings, saying they were exasperated that the court has spent so much time to conclude their cases.

“I think the court is incapable of providing us justice. We have suffered a lot for two years. I am so hurt when the case has not yet ended and the re-investigation has to start all over again like this,” Mr Sothearin said.

Mr Chhin said that a protracted court case hanging over his head has ruined his life and family.

“We both did nothing that could harm the country at all. But the court has ruined my life and my family for two years because we are still charged and some of our activities are restricted,” he said.

Mr Chhin and Mr Sothearin were arrested in November 2017 and charged with “illegally providing information to a foreign state” under Article 445 of the Criminal Code, an allegation both denied.

The pair were released on bail and placed under the court supervision in August 2018 after spending about nine months in Prey Sar prison.

Sam Chamroeun, the lawyer defending the duo, yesterday said reinvestigation is a waste of time, adding that there was no new evidence or defendants to be reviewed and questioned.

“I am really disappointed about this. Based on the law, I have no right to appeal it. So, there is nothing I can do now. I will just wait and see,” Mr Chamroeun said.

Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin yesterday said that Judge Vannak has the right to have the case reinvestigated if he finds the case lacking information or evidence.

“In order to ensure that the verdict is correct, the judge has the authority to call for further reinvestigation before he will deliver a verdict,” Mr Malin said.

Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodia Centre for Human Rights, yesterday said the court should acquit Mr Chhin and Mr Sothearin if it could not produce new evidence against them.

“The burden to prove them guilty goes to the court and if the court cannot find evidence against them, they shall be freed from accusations with charges dropped,” Ms Sopheap said. “In short, today’s ruling shows that justice delayed is justice denied.”

Human Rights Watch Asia deputy chief Phil Robertson yesterday slammed the reinvestigation as politically motivated, noting that the case will simply increase the intimidation aimed at other editors and journalists in Cambodia.

“There was never any real evidence these two journalists committed espionage in the first place. This case was politically motivated from day one and the judge’s admission there is no real evidence should have prompted the dismissal of the case,” he said.

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