Bangkok, May 3, 2017--Cambodian authorities should immediately drop all charges against Radio Free Asia journalist Huot Vuthy, also known as Chun Chanboth, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Vuthy, the U.S.-government-funded radio station's deputy director for Cambodia, left the country on April 29 after receiving a summons to appear in court on May 2 on charges that he failed to identify himself as a journalist during a prison visit with a group of 16 jailed opposition politicians and political activists, according to news reports.
Phnom Penh's Municipal Court today issued a warrant for his arrest for failing to respond to the court's summons in person, news reports said. Vuthy's appointed lawyers presented a written statement refuting the allegations that he misrepresented himself to gain access to the Prey Sar prison complex, the reports said.
"The charges against Huot Vuthy, if fully prosecuted, would give authorities carte blanche to harass and prosecute journalists on flimsy allegations that they failed to identify themselves while pursuing sensitive stories," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's Southeast Asia representative. "For the sake of press freedom, this bogus lawsuit should be dropped, and Vuthy should be allowed to resume his reporting duties without fear of reprisal."
In a statement, RFA yesterday said RFA's leadership asked Vuthy to return to the United States out of concern for his safety and concerns that he might not get a fair trial. Vuthy, a U.S. citizen, "committed no crime," the statement said.
The court summons claimed that Vuthy told guards he was an "assistant" to opposition lawmakers Mu Sochua and Long Ry, according to news reports. Penalties for making a "false declaration" carry a maximum two-year prison sentence under local laws, the reports said.
The charges against Vuthy come against the backdrop of increased government suppression of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party ahead of local elections in June. The RFA statement claimed Cambodian authorities have politicized the case against their reporter to distract attention during a contested election.
In the lead-up to 2012's local elections, Cambodia's Ministry of Information barred Radio Free Asia and two other radio news stations from broadcasting election-related news, according to reports.