Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Court rejects former RFA reporters’ bail bid after US senators call for pair’s release

Court rejects former RFA reporters’ bail bid after US senators call for pair’s release

Former RFA reporter Yeang Sothearin seen in a prison van as he is taken to Cambodia’s Supreme Court on Friday morning, where he was denied bail.
Former RFA reporter Yeang Sothearin seen in a prison van as he is taken to Cambodia’s Supreme Court on Friday morning, where he was denied bail. Heng Chivoan

Court rejects former RFA reporters’ bail bid after US senators call for pair’s release

Cambodia's Supreme Court on Friday rejected bail for two former Radio Free Asia journalists accused in November of espionage in a widely criticised press freedom case, the day after a group of US senators called for the pair’s release.

Yeang Sothearin, 35, and Oun Chhin, 49, were arrested on suspicion of filing stories to the US-funded news organisation a month after RFA shuttered its in-country service during a broader clampdown on independent media. The charges against the pair have been widely condemned by international media organisations.

Naly Pilorge, of the rights group Licadho, criticised the court’s rejection. “It’s outrageous that the highest court in the country could not decide to release two men who can only be found to work in frontline journalism so they can rejoin their young children and grandchildren again,” she said.

The two were charged with supplying a foreign state with information which undermines national defence. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison. No trial date has been set. In rejecting their bid for bail, the Supreme Court upheld the verdict of the lower Appeal Court, which ruled in favour of their ongoing pre-trial detention.

Judge Soeung Panhavuth, who read the verdict, said the judges deemed it necessary to keep the two in pre-trial detention.

“The Appeal Court did not release them on bail and put them under court supervision, for . . . reasons such as to prevent such a crime from happening again. The Supreme Court sees that it’s also right,” Judge Panhavuth said.

Oun Chhin (centre) and Yeang Sothearin (right) exit a prison van on Friday morning.
Oun Chhin (centre) and Yeang Sothearin (right) exit a prison van on Friday morning. Heng Chivoan

Sothearin, however, made a lengthy and impassioned plea for his release.

“The authorities took my two phones and they have my phone and email passwords. I already cooperated with authorities. It’s clear that I am loyal and I have nothing to hide from you,” he said. “After checking, they don’t find any evidence.”

He said his passport could be confiscated and he was not a flight risk.

Both described the Supreme Court decision as “unjust”. “The arrest is an intimidation to other journalists working in Cambodia. It’s a further restriction to freedom of press,” Sothearin said.

His brother, Yeang Vina, 44, said he was left speechless by the Supreme Court decision.

He said Sothearin’s wife and two children had faced hardships since his arrest, although a local NGO had provided her a few hundred dollars to help send her children to school.

“Now, his wife and kids are my burden. They live with me. His wife does not have any job to do, except looking after two children,” he said. “I don’t know how to earn more to further support her. We only appeal for help.”

Oun Chhin's second wife and youngest child outside the Supreme Court this morning.
Oun Chhin's second wife and youngest child outside the Supreme Court this morning. Heng Chivoan

Sothearin was also questioned earlier this month in relation to possible pornography charges that could be levelled against Chhin after images were circulated by government mouthpiece Fresh News, purportedly depicting Chhin taking part in and filming a sex act. In stills seen by The Post, Chhin could not be conclusively identified as the man in question.

Though there has been some international criticism of the arrests, the US government has been largely quiet about the case, despite the fact that RFA is both US-based and supported.

However, a group of US senators expressed their concern last week, addressing a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen dated March 15 urging the immediate release of Chhin and Sothearin, along with former opposition President Kem Sokha. Signed by senators Dick Durbin, Edward Markey, Patrick Leahy, and Ted Cruz, they write that the arrests of the three “appear to be politically motivated”.

The senators note concern “specifically” over the detention of the RFA reporters. “We are deeply troubled by reports of the deterioration of their physical and mental health,” they said, writing that the prison conditions had “resulted in the men suffering from scabies”.

The senators also decried an overall worsening rights situation within the country.

“Your government’s current repression of civil society and silencing of differing political voices threatens our relationship,” the letter continues.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the criticism “doesn’t bother” Cambodia.

“It’s none of their business; it’s an internal affair,” he said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Hun Sen: Full country reopening to be decided in two weeks

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced that if the Covid-19 situation remains stable for 15 consecutive days from the end of the October 5-7 Pchum Ben public holiday, Cambodia will reopen fully, albeit in the context of Covid-19 whereby people have to adjust their lives to

  • Phnom Penh governor: Show Covid-19 vaccination cards, or else

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng late on October 5 issued a directive requiring all people aged 18 and over and the parents of children aged 6-17 to produce Covid-19 vaccination cards when entering schools, markets, malls, marts, eateries and other business establishments that have been permitted

  • Cambodia seeks probe into 'false reports' on Hun Sen's alleged Cypriot passport

    Minister of Justice Koeut Rith on September 6 wrote a letter to his Cypriot counterpart Stephie Dracos requesting cooperation in investigating and providing the truth in relation to the "exaggerative and false allegations" that Prime Minister Hun Sen holds a Cypriot passport. In his letter, the

  • 'Pandora Papers' expose leaders' offshore millions

    More than a dozen heads of state and government, from Jordan to Azerbaijan, Kenya and the Czech Republic, have used offshore tax havens to hide assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a far-reaching new investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (

  • Cambodia voted ‘world’s friendliest country’ in Rough Guides reader poll

    Cambodia ranked number one among the “World’s Friendliest Countries”, according to a reader poll conducted by London-based international website “Rough Guides”. Taking submissions through Twitter and Facebook, “Rough Guides”, a well-known travel agency and publisher of guidebooks, said the Kingdom “was by far the

  • Two major S’ville events could jumpstart international tourism: insiders

    Preah Sihanouk province is set to host two major international tourism-related events in late 2021 and early 2022, which insiders expect to ignite new interest among new and repeat foreign holidaymakers into visiting the Kingdom and significantly raise tourist arrivals from near zero in the Covid era.