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Court orders further probe into cases of RFA journos

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Yeang Sothearin (left) and Oun Chhin (immediately behind) speak to media outside court on Thursday. Heng Chivoan

Court orders further probe into cases of RFA journos

After a hearing on Thursday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordered further investigation into the cases of two former Radio Free Asia (RFA) reporters charged with espionage and the production of pornography.

Oun Chhin and Yeang Sothearin were arrested in November 2017 and charged with “providing information undermining national defence to a foreign state” under Article 445 of the Criminal Code.

The offence is punishable with a prison sentence of between seven and 15 years if found guilty.

In March last year, the court charged Chhin with the “production of pornography” under Article 39 of the Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

Chhin and Sothearin, also known as Sochea Meta, said they were frustrated to have still not received a verdict after the trial concluded, with a ruling originally set to be announced on August 30.

Present in court on Thursday were observers from the US embassy and rights group Adhoc, as well as members of the local and international media.

Investigating Judge Im Vannak said that having listened to the statements of the accused and the concluding arguments of their lawyer, the court found that the case needed further investigation due to a lack of evidence.

“The evidence related to the offences concerned is not clear. The court, therefore, orders further investigation to gather more evidence to meet the requirements necessary for the issuing of a verdict,” Judge Vannak said.

Sothearin told The Post that he did not understand the decision.

“We find it difficult to understand because the investigation was closed and the case sent to trial. It then took longer than stated for the judge to issue a verdict, and now the case is said to be lacking enough evidence to make a judgement,” he said.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Former RFA reporters Oun Chhin (left) and Yeang Sothearin. Heng Chivoan

He said the decision would give the public the impression that the courts did not value dispensing justice to the people as their case had been ongoing for more than two years.

This, he said, was ample time for the court to reach a verdict.

“We want to stress that we currently face daily difficulties. We live under pressure from the court, we don’t have full rights and can’t enjoy freedom like everybody else,” Sothearin said.

Chhin and Sothearin were arrested on the night of November 14, 2017, as they set up a studio at the seven-storey Marady guesthouse in Meanchey district’s Stung Meanchey commune in Phnom Penh.

They were suspected of having provided information to the RFA based in Washington, DC, in the US without permission.

Chak Sopheap, the executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) who attended the hearing, said Chhin and Sothearin had been detained for nine months before being released on bail. The court had then heard their case in late July and early August this year.

“I would like to take this opportunity to call on the court to consider dropping the charges against Chhin and Sothearin. I also request the government to protect the freedom of journalists so they can fulfil their duties lawfully,” she said.

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