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US lawmakers call for release of RFA journos

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Former RFA reporters Yeang Sothearin (front, in blue shirt) and Oun Chhin (back, in white shirt) are escorted by officials after being detained for questioning in Phnom Penh in November. Pha Lina

US lawmakers call for release of RFA journos

Members of the US Congress issued a letter on Wednesday criticising the arrest of two Radio Free Asia (RFA) journalists, claiming it was part of a campaign by the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

However, Council of Ministers’ spokesman, Phay Siphan, shot back, saying the letter was just the personal opinion of a few members of the US Congress and does not have any jurisdiction in Cambodia.

“The US congressmen only work on US matters. They don’t have any jurisdiction over other countries. Each sovereign nation has its own laws, institutions and procedures,” he said.Representatives Alan Lowenthal of California and Steve Chabot of Ohio, endorsed the statement which said: “As members of the US Congress, we are concerned not only about the downward spiral of Cambodia’s fragile democracy, but also about the detention of numerous people caught up in Hun Sen’s autocratic net.

“Over the last year, the Hun Sen regime has intensified the misuse of the Cambodian justice system to prosecute opposition and human rights activists, arresting the leaders of the political opposition on dubious charges of treason, dissolving the Cambodia National Rescue Party [CNRP] and banning over 100 CNRP members from political activity.”

The letter claimed that since July 2015, authorities had arrested over 35 political opposition and civil society leaders, many of whom have been prosecuted and convicted in summary trials that failed to meet international standards.

“We have known already that you also worry as we do. We urge you to continue debating for the release of Oun Chhin and Yeang Sothearin,” the letter said.

David Josar, a US Embassy spokesperson, told The Post via email on Thursday that he did not have direct information about the letter but urged the Cambodian government to allow journalists to do their work.

“The government of Cambodia should allow civil society – including independent media – to carry out their constitutionally protected work. The espionage charges against the former Radio Free Asia journalists are a politically motivated attempt to undermine media freedom and to dissuade other journalists from doing their jobs,” he said.

Union of Journalist Federations of Cambodia Director Huy Vannak said that while he welcomed the attempted intervention letter, it could bring more harm to Chhin and Sothearin.

“Are both of them journalists any longer? If yes, for whom? Secondly, what is the basis for this intervention . . . because the US is a superpower?” he asked.

He asked why the intervention came only in certain cases, and said foreign countries should not interfere in judicial procedures, or violate Cambodia’s sovereignty “otherwise, it would put the two detainees at higher risk”.

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