Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday granted bail to two former Radio Free Asia journalists who were jailed in November on espionage charges.
Reporters Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin worked for RFA’s Khmer-language service until the US-funded media outlet shut its Phnom Penh bureau on September 12 last year, citing government repression and the forced closure of its FM radio broadcasts.
Both were arrested in Phnom Penh’s Marady Hotel in November last year and were accused of sending intelligence reports to the United States, an allegation they deny.
Multiple bail requests were shot down by multiple courts.
In March, the Supreme Court denied bail to Mr Sothearin and Mr Chhin, upholding an earlier Appeal Court decision to continue their pre-trial detention.
In May, the municipal court extended their pretrial detention by another six months.
Municipal court spokesman Y Rin said yesterday that the municipal court decided to grant them bail with court supervision.
“The investigating judge decided to grant them bail and they are now free from prison,” Mr Rin said, declining to comment further.
As they left Prey Sar prison at about 6.45pm yesterday, Mr Chhin and Mr Sothearin said they will continue to fight for their full freedom.
Mr Sothearin said the court must drop their charges.
“We continue to demand the court drop the charges against us so we can live like normal citizens,” he said. “Our bureau shut down and we don’t have jobs so we don’t know what jobs we can take because we’re under strict court supervision.”
The two were charged with providing information to foreign agents. If convicted, the pair could see up to 15 years in prison.
Soeng Sen Karuna, senior investigator with the rights group Adhoc, said that the case is politically motivated.
Mr Sen Karuna said that prior to the national election, critics were suppressed and their freedoms were restricted.
He added that this includes members of civil society groups and independent media.
“All these cases are politically motivated because of the situation with the government,” Mr Sen Karuna said. “We see that the two former reporters were banned from travelling overseas and they have had their passports confiscated, but they won’t escape anywhere. They cooperated with the courts, but their bail was not granted before the election.”
The release of the two former Radio Free Asia reporters came after King Norodom Sihamoni on Monday pardoned land activist Tep Vanny and her three colleagues.