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CCIM: Drop journos’ charges

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Yeang Sothearin (center) is shown with members of his family after his release on bail earlier this week. Heng Chivoan

CCIM: Drop journos’ charges

The Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM) on Wednesday issued a statement calling for charges against former Radio Free Asia journalists Oun Chhin and Yeang Sothearin to be dropped.

Both men, who are charged with espionage and production of pornography, were released on bail earlier this week.

“CCIM firmly believes that the court decision to release Chhin and Sothearin evidently vindicates that the two are absolutely innocent.

“CCIM is strongly convinced that Chhin and Sothearin should have been granted complete freedom as ordinary citizens,” the statement read, calling for all charges to be dropped.

‘People inside knew us’

Its communications officer Sek Sophal said: “We appeal to the court to drop the charges for both of them. If the court drops the [charges] it is really a good sign for press freedom.”

Both men are continuing to appeal their charges, and have described their nine months behind bars as a “living hell”.

Chhin, 49, claimed he shared a 3.5 by five-metre room with 28 other inmates during his time in prison.

“It is just too many people in the room; so I thought it was a kind of torture. I felt like I was living in hell,” he said, adding that he often read or sang but was only allowed 15 minutes outside per day.

“People inside knew who we were, and they were respectful to us ... we shared experiences and asked them what they will do when they get released,” Chhin said.

Sothearin, 34, described a similar experience, saying he passed the time by studying history and reading borrowed newspapers.

“I missed my youngest daughter a lot and I missed my job. It is part of my life … we help people with our knowledge. I felt like having no news was like having no food while I was in prison,” he said.

He reflected on the recent release of another critical voice, that of Tep Vanny, the Boeung Kak activist who was also freed earlier this week.

“I heard Tep Vanny was already released. So I think our country is getting better and tensions are easing.”

Chhin began working with RFA in 2007 as a reporter covering stories related to the environment and a crackdown on wildlife poaching.

“Working as a journalist, I used to think that one day we could be in jail, but this experience is just so unpredictable,” he said.

Still a journalist

Despite having to report to the commune office the first week of each month, Chhin said he was on the lookout for another job in journalism.

“I am still worried because the charge is against us. I don’t have freedom because I cannot meet my parents who are in Khmer Krom [Vietnam]. We appeal to the court to drop the charges and we don’t know if it is happy with us or not. It may press charges against us again … we don’t know.”

Political analyst Kim Sok was also released from Prey Sar Prison last week, after serving a year and a half on charges of incitement. By contrast, Vanny was released by a royal pardon that had been requested by Hun Sen.

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