Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday held a closed-door hearing with two former RFA reporters regarding whether to extend their pretrial detention, but the decision has been delayed until Friday.
The hearing came after the two journalists were arrested and put in pretrial detention for six months on charges of espionage.
Police arrested former RFA reporters Oun Chhin and Yeang Sothearin on November 14, and, a few days later, they were charged with espionage for “providing a foreign state with information prejudicial to national defence” and sent to pretrial detention at Prey Sar prison. They were later additionally charged with producing pornography after the authorities said they found pornographic images on their computers.
In the hearing, which lasted for about an hour, the reporters’ defence lawyer argued against the charges and also challenged the date when police say they were officially arrested.
Defence lawyer Keo Vanny said the court should decide now as his clients have been held since November 14, the day when they were arrested, not November 18 when they were sent to custody.
“We request the court not to extend the detention and release my clients because the detention has gone on longer than is legal. If we look back, they’ve been held since November 14, but the prosecutor said it was only from November 18,” Vanny said.
While they were being prepared for transportation back to Prey Sar, Sothearin said they hoped the court will release them on Friday.
“They did not decide today but will do it on Friday, whether to release us or not. We hope that they will release us,” Sothearin said.
Vanny also said that six months is more than enough time for an investigation to be completed.
“It is enough to make a decision and give them freedom. Continuing their detention will not produce any new evidence because the court has already confiscated their phones and computers. My clients also cooperated by giving the police passwords.”
Judge Pich Vichearthor is expected to deliver the decision on Friday.
On Tuesday, a regional NGO, Forum-Asia, called for the charges to be dropped and the duo released.
“Forum-Asia calls on the Government of Cambodia to drop the charges against Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin and release them from such arbitrary detention, especially since six months have passed without any progress,” it said in a press release.