Yeang Sothearin, a former editor and office coordinator with U.S.-Congress funded Radio Free Asia, was arrested and taken to Phnom Penh’s municipal police headquarters for questioning on November 14, 2017, according to news reports. He was detained with former RFA videographer Uon Chhin, the reports said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said that the pair were being investigated for allegedly setting up a broadcast studio for RFA, according to The Cambodia Daily. Chhin and Sothearin denied the accusation, according to reports.
The Cambodia Daily reported that the two former RFA journalists were accused of secretly installing broadcasting equipment in a guest house in the capital’s Meancheay district and sending news reports to the station’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. The report said police seized a voice recorder, microphone, laptop, and video monitor from the guesthouse.
On November 18, Phnom Penh’s Municipal Court charged Sothearin with espionage, an anti-state charge defined under Article 445 of the criminal code as “providing information that is destructive to national defense to a foreign state,” according to Reuters. Convictions under the law carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, reports said.
Sothearin faced further procedures by an investigating judge before trial, Reuters reported, citing court spokesman Ly Sophana.
Keo Vanny, a lawyer representing both reporters, said the charges were too serious and that the two were merely doing their jobs as journalists, without specifying for which news organization they were on assignment, Reuters reported. He said there was no evidence to press charges against the reporters, reports said.
RFA closed its Phnom Penh bureau and suspended its in-country news operations on September 12 under official pressure related to its registration as a licensed media company. Rohit Mahajan, RFA’s director of public affairs, told CPJ by email that the two reporters were no longer working for RFA at the time of their arrest. As of late 2017, Chhin and Sothearin were being held at Phnom Penh’s municipal police headquarters.