Cambodia: Drop bogus “espionage” charges against former Radio Free Asia journalists

Ahead of the two-year anniversary of the arrest of former Radio Free Asia (RFA) journalists Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia, said:

“Two years on, it is outrageous that these brave journalists remain under investigation despite the complete lack of credible evidence against them. Beyond the clear injustice to these two journalists, this is a blatant attempt to stifle free expression and a clear warning to all remaining independent journalists in Cambodia.

While pro-government journalists are rewarded, the independent media in Cambodia have been decimated in recent years. Authorities seem intent on keeping things that way, when they should be undoing this damage.
Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty's Regional DIrector for East and Southeast Asia

“Cambodian authorities often allege that the large numbers of media outlets operating in Cambodia is evidence of press freedom, but this investigation makes a mockery of such claims. While pro-government journalists are rewarded, the independent media in Cambodia have been decimated in recent years. Authorities seem intent on keeping things that way, when they should be undoing this damage.

“The Cambodian authorities must immediately drop the bogus charges against Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, and take further corrective action to restore Cambodia’s media freedoms. The climate of fear and self-censorship created by authorities must end.”

Background

Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin were arrested on 14 November 2017 and detained in Prey Sar prison. They were provisionally charged four days later with “supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to national defence” under Article 445 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code. In March 2018 the pair were further charged with “production of pornography” under Article 39 of the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation.

As a result of the accumulated charges against them, each faces up to 16 years in prison.

Although the verdict in their case was due to be announced on 3 October 2019, the trial judge instead ordered that the case be sent for re-investigation.

On 21 August 2018, both men were released from Prey Sar prison on bail, after more than nine months in pre-trial detention; however, they remain under judicial supervision.

Since 2017, the Cambodian authorities have engaged in a major crackdown against independent and critical media. Outspoken Khmer-language media outlets have had their activities severely restricted, including via the closure of 32 radio frequencies relaying RFA, Voice of America (VOA) and Voice of Democracy (VOD) broadcasts.

RFA closed its Cambodia bureau in September 2017, citing the repressive environment and ongoing harassment of their journalists.

The sale of the Phnom Penh Post – Cambodia’s last remaining independent English-Khmer language newspaper – to business interests with links to Prime Minister Hun Sen in May 2018 struck a severe blow to press freedom in Cambodia. This followed the enforced closure of the outspoken Cambodia Daily newspaper in September 2017.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Information has employed hundreds of additional advisers in 2019, including many journalists and editors working with prominent Cambodian media outlets.