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Court to decide on former RFA journalists case this month

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times Share:
Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin speak at the Appeal Court yesterday. KT/Ben Sokhean

Two former Radio Free Asia journalists charged with porn production and espionage yesterday asked the Appeal Court to stop the re-investigation order into their cases.

“We will consider whether or not the appeal filed followed legal procedures,” Appeal Court Presiding Judge Plang Samnang said during a hearing yesterday, adding the verdict will issued on January 28.

Former RFA journalists Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin were arrested in November 2017 and charged by Phnom Penh Municipal Court with “provision of information undermining national defence” under Article 445 of the Criminal Code and producing porn, allegations both men denied.

The pair were released on bail and placed under court supervision in August 2018 after spending months in pre-trial detention in Prey Sar prison.

On October 3, Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordered the case to be re-investigated after two hearing sessions in July and August. The court said there was not enough evidence to acquit or convict the former journalists.

Chhin at the Appeal Court hearing said yesterday he was unhappy with the lower court’s re-investigation order.

“The reason why we appealed is because Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision has been affecting my freedom in the past two years,” he said. “A reinvestigation has prolonged the case.”

Judge Samnang said Sam Chamroeun and Kong Pisey, the duo’s defence lawyers should write a statement to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court presiding judge and send an appeal to the Justice Ministry to have the cases expedited.

Mr Chamroeun said “The court alleged they committed a serious crime against national security and were disappointed with the October 3 verdict.”

“The lower court’s decision intended to inculpate my clients, not exculpate them,” Mr Pisey said. “The judge had already concluded my clients were guilty. I urge the Appeal Court to reject the lower court’s decision.”

Outside the courtroom yesterday, both men believe the Phnom Penh Municipal Court had no intention to drop the charges.

“We will continue to battle for justice and we appeal to the international community to monitor our case as the court continues to prosecute us,” Chhin said.

The prosecution of Chhin and Soethearin has garnered the attention of pro-human rights groups.

“Foreign governments should interpret today’s inconclusive hearing as yet another signal the Cambodian government refuses to make any concessions on civil and political rights and fails to respect the principle of media freedom,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said yesterday.

“When the court of appeal reconvenes to issue a verdict on January 28, it should put an end to this travesty of justice by halting the so-called ‘re-investigation’ of the bogus espionage charges against Chhin and Sothearin,” Mr Robertson added.

Deputy prosecutor general, Tan Senarong said yesterday at the Appeal Court, he objected to the statement made by the defense laywers calling for the courts to conclude the case as the investigations have not been completed.

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