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Former Radio Free Asia journalists Yeang Sothearin (L) and Uon Chhin (R) arrive at the court of appeal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on January 20, 2020, for a hearing. On January 28, the appeals court upheld espionage investigations against the two journalists. (AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)

Cambodia upholds espionage investigations into ex-Radio Free Asia reporters

January 28, 2020 8:42 AM ET

Bangkok, January 28, 2020--A Cambodian appeals court today rejected a request made by two former Radio Free Asia reporters for state prosecutors to drop a reinvestigation of espionage charges pending against them, according to a report by their former employer.

Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin, respectively a former editor and videographer with the U.S. Congress-funded news outlet, made their appeals after a Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge last October ordered a reinvestigation of the charges on the basis he did not have enough evidence to rule on the case, CPJ documented at the time.

Sam Chamreoun, the reporters’ lawyer, was quoted in the Radio Free Asia report as saying that the ruling was delivered as a verbal statement, and that they have one month to appeal the decision.

“Cambodian authorities should stop treating reporters Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin like criminals and drop the bogus charges against them,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “The longer their legal harassment continues, the more damage will be done to Cambodia’s already threadbare credibility as a democracy.”

The pair were first arrested and charged with espionage in November 2017 on allegations they had installed broadcasting equipment in a Phnom Penh guesthouse to secretly send reports to Radio Free Asia’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., after it had closed down its Cambodia bureau, CPJ documented at the time.

The two reporters have also been charged with illegally producing pornography. On December 30, an appeals court rejected the reporters’ appeal to stop a reinvestigation into that charge, according to a Radio Free Asia report.

The two reporters were held in pre-trial detention on the espionage and pornography charges for nine months before being released on bail in August 2018, CPJ reported at the time. If found guilty of espionage, they each face a maximum 15 years in prison under Article 445 of the criminal code. The pornography charges carry a possible one-year prison term, reports said.

Their former employer strongly condemned today's decision against the pair.

“Cambodian authorities should heed what the international community is telling them: This legal process is deeply unfair and undermines the principles of free expression and respect for a free press that are enshrined in Cambodia’s constitution,” Bay Fang, Radio Free Asia’s president, said in a statement CPJ received by email.

CPJ’s emailed request for comment to Cambodia’s Ministry of Justice did not immediately receive a reply.

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