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Drop journalists’ ‘espionage’ charges, urges rights group

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Yeang Socheameta (left, wearing glasses) and Oun Chhin (right, speaking to the press). Human Rights Watch has called on Cambodian authorities to drop espionage charges. Heng Chivoan

Drop journalists’ ‘espionage’ charges, urges rights group

Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement on Wednesday urging Cambodian authorities to drop espionage charges which it deemed politically motivated against two former Radio Free Asia (RFA) journalists and free them of court supervision.

But Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin dismissed the statement as a violation of the Cambodian court’s jurisdiction.

Oun Chhin and Yeang Sothearin were arrested in November 2017 and were later charged with the “Provision of Information Undermining National Defence to a Foreign State” under Article 445 of the Criminal Code. The appeal court is to hear their case on Friday.

Brad Adams, the executive director of HRW’s Asia Division, urged the court to drop all charges against the duo.

“The two former RFA journalists are victims of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s unending attack on media outlets that dare air critical reports about the government."

“There’s no basis for the ludicrous charges against these two reporters or for forcing them into judicial supervision. The court should drop both the charges and supervision arrangements immediately,” he said in the statement.

Malin told The Post that HRW’s statement was predictable and would not hold sway as the Kingdom’s courts were independent.

“I don’t think Human Rights Watch’s appeal would have any influence on Cambodia’s courts. It [HRW] should instead send legal experts to help the two former RFA reporters in their defence and present evidence that would help relieve them of the legal burden. That would be better,” he said.

In response to HRW’ statement that the espionage charges against Chhin and Sothearin are ludicrous and groundless, Malin said the remarks were made to discredit the government and courts.

“As a matter of fact, it is [Adams’] statement that is baseless and intended to undermine the efforts of the Cambodian government and courts,” he said.

On Thursday, Sothearin stood firm against the charges. He said the court’s decision to put him and Chhin under judicial supervision, which bars them from leaving the country and requires them to appear and report to judicial police when needed is a “serious suppression of their rights and freedom”.

“It is very difficult for me, even when I want to go to my hometown to see my elderly parents, I am not allowed . . . The court’s supervision separates me from my family,” said Sothearin, who claimed to be an ethnic Cambodian from Tra Vinh province’s Cau Ke district in Kampuchea Krom, the southwestern part of Vietnam.

Sothearin and Chhin were arrested by Cambodian authorities on November 14, 2017, two days after RFA closed its office in Phnom Penh.

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