A group of local journalists have written an open letter calling for the release of former Radio Free Asia journalists Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, who were arrested earlier this month.
The request came after Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Seng Heang charged both men with “espionage” for supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to national defence.
Should the pair be found guilty of these charges, they face up to 15 years in jail.
The letter read that “the charge of providing information prejudicial to national defence is a severe accusation. The allegations against these two former reporters are creating a climate of fear for journalists working professionally and contribute to the decline of press freedom in Cambodia.”
“Therefore, we as journalists would like to respectfully ask the court to consider dropping the charge.” The former RFA staff members were sent to Prey Sar prison to wait for further questioning.
Keo Vanny, a lawyer working with the pair, said he did not know how long his clients would be detained before being questioned again.
“The judges mostly asked Mr Chhin about the studio launch, its purpose and the location of its broadcast. My client always denied being involved with RFA,” he said.
“Their case is separate because Mr Chhin rented the room with his own equipment to create music and videos, while Mr Sothearin is not involved with the studio.”
The two men were arrested at the Marady Hotel on November 14 in Phnom Penh.
Mr Chhin said the studio was set to record family karaoke songs and to rent for wedding photography, and had no link to RFA.
Mr Chhin’s wife Heng Sina, 49, said she was horrified when her husband was charged and arrested by the police. Now all she could do was wait.
After resigning from RFA, Mr Chhin was not involved with the station in any way, and the studio was merely a mean to earn money with some equipment he bought when visiting the US a few years earlier, Ms Sina said.
Heng Boeun, who said he had been living with Mr Sothearin, said he stopped working for the station and was looking for work with an NGO in the education sector, but had not secured a position yet.
In yet another accusation, website Fresh News reported police revealed on Saturday that they had found new evidence on Mr Chhin’s computer.
The former journalist was allegedly involved in the production of pornographic material with foreigners, which could lead to new charges.