Two former Radio Free Asia journalists have been summonsed to appear in court on May 16, likely to review the extension of their six-month detention which has seen human rights groups calling for their “unconditional release”, while government officials think such calls violate court procedure.
Former journalists Yeang Sothearin and Oun Chhin were arrested on November 14, 2017, and sent to court to face charges of espionage four days later. They were then sent to pretrial detention.
No trial date has been set. RFA shut down its operation in Cambodia in September 2017.
Defence lawyer Keo Vanny told The Post on Sunday that “the municipal court called me to appear on May 16 with the two clients”. “We’re reaching the end of their six-month pretrial detention,” he said. “If they don’t have enough evidence, they should close the investigation and release them.”
However, he said, the court can decide to further extend their detention for another six months.
In a statement released by Human Rights Watch on Sunday, Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, said the charges against them should be dropped immediately and called the arrest part of an “ongoing crackdown on the media, civil society groups, and political opposition.”
“Ahead of July’s national elections, Prime Minister Hun Sen has been filling Cambodia’s prisons with journalists, activists, and politicians,” said Adams. “In its reprisals against RFA for its critical reporting, the government has concocted absurd espionage charges against former journalists Oun Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, who should be freed immediately.”
Chin Malin, spokesman for the Ministry of Justice, denounced the statement by HRW, saying “it’s not strange that they accuse the government illegally”.
“Their charges are under investigating procedure. How can the government release them? We cannot put pressure on the court,” he said. “If HRW wants to help the two, they should join in the court’s procedure . . . they can find good lawyers to defend the case.”