The Supreme Court yesterday decided to return the Khmer identity card but not the passport of former Radio Free Asia journalist Uon Chhin, who is facing porn production and espionage charges together with former colleague Yeang Sothearin. Both are out on bail.
During their arrests, Chhin had his ID card and passport with him while Sothearin only had his passport.
Presiding Judge Nil Nonn said the lower court made an incorrect ruling on withholding the ID but was correct in retaining the passports of both men.
“The Supreme Court has decided to return the Khmer Identification Card to the accused, Uon Chhin,” he said. “But the Supreme Court upholds the ruling on the passports because the two accused, Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin, are charged with illegally providing information to a foreign state that could undermine national security and their case is ongoing,” he said.
Chhin and 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 which 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, 2019, 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.
In January, the Appeal Court rejected a request by both men to drop the re-investigation which would extend their two-year legal limbo.
“I am happy to be getting back my ID card to facilitate my daily life such as using it to correct some documents related to my birth certificate,” Chhin said. “However, without my passport I have no chance of receiving medical treatment in a neighbouring country or attend a short training course overseas.”
Sothearin expressed his disappointment with the Supreme Court’s rejection of his request for the return of his passport.
“I really need a passport so that I can visit my parents in Kampuchea Krom [in Vietnam],” he said. “Since my arrest, I haven’t seen them.”
Sam Chamroeun, their defence lawyer, said yesterday he regretted the Supreme Court’s decision.
“The decision by the Supreme Court has not considered or valued the freedom of a person which is stipulated in the Constitution,” he said.
Nop Vy, executive director of Cambodian Journalists Alliance, yesterday called on the court officials to drop the charges against both men and free them.
“We believe the case is politically motivated, so the court should consider dropping all charges against them,” he said.
Chhin and Sothearin had worked for RFA’s Khmer-language service until the US-funded media outlet shut its Phnom Penh bureau on September 12, 2017, citing government repression and the forced closure of its FM radio broadcasts.