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RFA journalists questioned

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Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin are transported to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday. Hong Menea

RFA journalists questioned

Two former Radio Free Asia (RFA) reporters were questioned at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday relating to a provisional “pornography” charge from a prosecutor.

However, the investigating judge has yet to officially charge them, according to their lawyer.

Uon Chhin, a former video journalist, and Yeang Sothearin, a Radio Free Asia reporter, were provisionally charged by prosecutors in March with producing pornography.

The charge was related to photos allegedly found on computers which were seized following their espionage charges in November last year.

The photos show a man, allegedly Chhin, performing and filming a sex act, though the man in the photos cannot be conclusively identified. Sothearin does not feature anywhere in the photos.

The RFA duo are facing espionage charges after being accused of attempting to continue reporting for the US-based RFA after it shuttered its operations in Cambodia amid an alleged government crackdown on independent media outlets.

Chhin and Sothearin have been in pretrial detention for more than six months. In mid-May, the investigating judge extended it by another six months over the espionage charge.

This was in accordance to Article 445 of Cambodia Criminal Code. The pair face between seven and 15 years in jail if found guilty.

Defence lawyer, Keo Vanny, said the questioning on Thursday centred on the pornography charges and that investigative judge, Pich Vicheathor, questioned Chhin for two hours and Yeang Sothearin for 30 minutes.

“They both were charged by the prosecutor. But now the investigating judge has questioned them and no decision has been made yet whether to proceed to trial.

“They were provisionally charged under Article 39 of the Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation,” Vanny said.

He added that his clients have denied the allegations.

Under Article 39 of the law, a person who distributes, transports, sells, leases, displays, projects or presents pornography will be sentenced to between one week and one month in prison.

But the last paragraph of the article states that those who produce pornography will be sentenced to between a month and a year, with an additional fine of between $50 and $500.

Vanny said the investigating judge will decide on whether to officially charge them after collecting more evidence and closing the ongoing investigation.

The arrest of the RFA reporters is alleged to be part of a crackdown on the free press. It came after RFA closed its offices in Cambodia, the shuttering of dozens of local radio stations, and the closing of the Cambodia Daily last year.

Some critics claim the alleged crackdown was carried out to restrict the media before the July 29 national elections.

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