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Cambodia must drop 'espionage' case, says watchdog

Two former Radio Free Asia journalists are due to go on trial from July 26 reporter, Phnom Penh reporter, Phnom Penh

Updated: July 25, 2019 05:49 AM GMT
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Cambodia must drop 'espionage' case, says watchdog

Former Radio Free Asia (RFA) journalist Oun Chhin gestures as he sits with his family in a car outside Prey Sar prison in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, on Aug. 21, 2018. (Photo by Tang Chhin/AFP)


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The international watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Cambodian authorities to immediately drop what it describes as a “politically motivated” case against two former Radio Free Asia (RFA) journalists.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court is scheduled on July 26 to start the trial for alleged espionage of Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin.

“The fabricated case against the ex-RFA journalists is intended as a strike against media that dares to criticize the Cambodian government,” said Phil Robertson, the Bangkok, Thailand-based HRW deputy Asia director.

Chhin and Sothearin should never have had to face these bogus espionage charges, and all judicial restrictions on them should be lifted.”

On Nov. 14, 2017, Cambodian authorities arrested Sothearin, RFA’s former Phnom Penh bureau office manager and a news editor, and his colleague Chhin, a former RFA cameraman.

Four days later, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged both with supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to Cambodia’s national defense under article 445 of the criminal code, an offense punishable by a prison term of 7 to 15 years.

On March 15, 2019, the investigating judge of the Phnom Penh court ordered the case to go to trial based on allegations that the journalists “illegally collected information for a foreign source.”

On June 21, the Phnom Penh appeals court decided to keep them under judicial supervision, but dropped a requirement for them to report to the police each month.

After their arrest, the men were held in pre-trial detention and were repeatedly refused bail for nine months, until Aug. 21, 2018, when the court released them and placed them under judicial supervision.

Both journalists asserted that their bail conditions — the monthly police station visits and confiscation of their passports — prevented them from earning a living.

The arrests came two months after RFA shut down its Cambodia bureau and local news gathering operations.

RFA alleged that the government systematically harassed its reporters, compelling it to close the bureau.

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