Two former Radio Free Asia reporters were detained last night in Phnom Penh and are being questioned this morning at a Meanchey district guesthouse where they were allegedly trying to set up a karaoke production studio.
District officials yesterday claimed that the KTV studio was illegal because the duo, Oun Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, did not have the requisite permissions, despite the fact that the fledgling studio hadn't even begun operations. Local media reports suggested the arrests were in relation to their sending news reports to RFA headquarters in the US.
The US-funded radio broadcaster shuttered its in-country operations in September after a crackdown on independent radio stations broadcasting their programming made it “impossible” for them to continue in the Kingdom. Since then the government has said reporters associated with the broadcaster will not be given press passes to report in the country.
Meanchey District Police Chief Ten Sino claimed he could not confirm the reason for the pair's arrest because the matter was with the Phnom Penh Municipal Police. Another police officer, who requested anonymity, said the duo had been questioned overnight and had maintained they did not work for RFA, but that police had evidence to suggest otherwise.
Deputy Meanchey District Governor Dy Roth Khemrun this morning confirmed that the duo were now back at the Marady guesthouse in Meanchey district for further questioning with Phnom Penh court Deputy Prosecutor Oum Sopheak.
“Even in the case there is complete permission from all relevant ministries [for the studio], if they still do activities that are not registered, they will be responsible in front of the law,” read Khemrun’s report from last night.
RFA spokesman Rohit Mahajan confirmed the radio outlet was aware of the detention and was deeply concerned the incident could constitute “harassment of former RFA journalists”.
Updates to follow.
Reporting by Niem Chheng, Mech Dara, Kong Meta and Ananth Baliga