Journos: Drop RFA charges

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Former RFA reporters Yeang Sothearin (in blue shirt) and Oun Chhin (back, in white T-shirt) are escorted by officials after being detained for questioning in November. FACEBOOK

Some 40 local and international journalists from several media outlets in Cambodia released an open letter on Thursday, calling for the court to drop charges against two former Radio Free Asia (RFA) reporters.

The call comes following the release of journalists Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin on bail in August, with the pair remaining under court supervision on espionage charges.

The pair were originally arrested on November 14, 2017, with police initially saying they detained them for allegedly running an unlicensed karaoke production studio.

The Ministry of Interior later confirmed they were being investigated for allegedly setting up an RFA broadcast studio, which had been banned by the government a month earlier.

“We are very concerned over the serious charges against Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin. In addition, putting them under the court’s supervision makes it hard for them to live and continue their careers as journalists."

“They can’t move to live in another place without permission from the investigating judge, can’t travel abroad, and must show up at a commune police station every month,” the letter, dated January 10, read.

The letter continued that the charges serve to intimidate other journalists and negatively impact Cambodia’s press freedom.

Voice of America reporter Sun Narin, one of the signatories, said journalists must help one another when they are encountering difficulties.

“I appeal to all levels of the courts to put an end to the supervision of the RFA reporters and drop the charges against them,” he said.

Sothearin expressed his appreciation for the support, which he considered as a sign of shared understanding of the hardships faced by journalists in Cambodia.

“They are journalists, so they can read our mind and know our difficulties. Therefore, they have been trying to call for help, pushing for an acceptable solution and justice for both of us,” he said.

Sothearin said he is unable to work due to the court’s supervision order and hopes that by dropping the charges he will be able to find a job to support his family.

Ministry of Information spokesman Phos Sovann said the case is under the court’s jurisdiction, so he could not comment.

Media trainer and Cambodia Institute for Media Studies director Moeun Chhean Nariddh supported the appeal, saying it gave the two journalists much needed support and a sense that they were not alone in battling the court’s decision.

He added that the court should drop the charges as it was severely impacting their ability to live.

“The letter is just a statement to the country’s leaders, but the decision depends on the court. I wish the court would drop the charges because its supervision impacts their standard of living,” Chhean Nariddh said.