December 31, 2019

Another denial of justice for two Cambodian journalists

The lawyers representing Yeang Sothearin (left) and Uon Chhin have 30 days to file a new appeal (photos: Nehru Pry - RSF).
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Phnom Penh’s appeal court to recover a semblance of credibility by dismissing all the grotesque proceedings against Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, two journalists who are now absurdly charged with pornography as well as spying after the court rejected an appeal by their lawyers yesterday.

The judicial nightmare for Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin began when they were arrested in November 2017, shortly after the media outlet for which they worked, the US-funded Radio Free Asia, was forced to close its Phnom Penh bureau, and shortly before the authorities banned the main opposition party.


They were released on bail after being held for nine months, but have continued to face trumped-up spying charges ever since, charges that a judge refused to dismiss last October.


In yesterday’s decision, the appeal court rejected a request for the dismissal of the newly revived additional charge of pornography. Shortly after their arrest in 2017, the pro-government website Fresh News reported that, according to a police leak, pornographic content “produced with foreign citizens” had been found on one of the journalists’ computer.


It was on the basis of this fanciful and unsubstantiated claim that the judge ruled yesterday that the investigation into the pornography charge should continue. Their lawyers have 30 days to file a new appeal.


“This totally trumped-up charge shows that the Cambodian justice system has now gone beyond the pale,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Everything indicates that the regime fabricated this case with the aim of intimidating all Cambodian journalists. We urge the appeal court to recover a semblance of credibility by abandoning all the grotesque charges against Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin once and for all.”


After Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin were released in August 2018, RSF produced a video in which they described the appalling conditions in which they were held for 272 days in Prey Sar prison.


Play the video: “Hell on Earth”


Because they are still subject to a conditional release, Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin cannot work as journalists and cannot travel abroad. In a second RSF video, they talked about the “permanent threat” of reimprisonment that hangs over them and their families.


Play the video: “A Permanent Threat”


Cambodia is ranked 143rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.