Imprisoned Radio Free Asia reporter Yeang Sothearin was questioned yesterday at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in relation to possible pornography charges.
Sothearin and his former RFA colleague Oun Chhin were charged with “espionage” in November after being accused of attempting to continue reporting after RFA shut down its operations in Cambodia. RFA voluntarily shuttered during a crackdown on independent media that saw a slew of its broadcast stations taken off the air.
Shortly after the two journalists were arrested, images were leaked to pro-government media, purportedly showing Chhin filming and participating in a sex act. Government mouthpiece Fresh News reported the images were discovered on a computer found during a police raid on a property the pair had rented. In the images seen by The Post, the man could not be conclusively identified as Chhin.
Naly Pilorge, with human rights group Licadho, dismissed the accusations and called for the release of both journalists
“From the start these two men have been harassed and targeted under false pretences because of the work they did in the past as frontline journalists,” she said.
Producing pornography is punishable by a one-year jail sentence and a 2 million riel (about $500) fine. Possessing pornography with the intent to distribute carries a maximum jail sentence of one month and a $50 fine.
The lawyer representing the pair in the espionage case confirmed they were both questioned in relation to the potential pornography charge this week, and said he did not attend despite being summoned.
“I did not accompany my clients in the court because I am not a lawyer in this case that might be brought against my clients,” said lawyer Keo Vanny.
Vanny said Chhin and Sothearin requested his help for this case, but they do not have the resources to pay for his legal counsel.
“They just questioned them but did not issue any official verdict or decision,” Vanny said, adding he did not know when a decision would be made on whether to charge either.
Vanny said that because producing pornography is a misdemeanour, the pair are not required to have legal representation. Nevertheless, Vanny said, they “really need a lawyer”.
Lim Sim, Sothearin’s uncle, said the pornography accusation was “unreasonable and unbelievable”.
He confirmed that the family does not have the financial wherewithal to pay for another lawyer, and appealed to civil society to assist them.