PP court hears case of ex-RFA reporters

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Uon Chhin (left) and Yeang Sothearin were released on bail in August last year. Heng Chivoan

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday heard the case of two former Radio Free Asia (RFA) reporters who have been charged with espionage.

Oun Chhin and Yeang Sothearin were arrested in November 2017 and charged with the “Provision of Information Undermining National Defence to a Foreign State” under Article 445 of the Criminal Code. The pair was later released on bail.

At the hearing on Friday, the duo repeated their calls for the court to drop the charges.

“We did not commit the crimes as accused,” said Sothearin, also known as Sochea Meta.

Sothearin cited prosecutor Seng Hieng as saying the charges were based on three instances. First, the prosecutor said, Chhin had rented a studio on the seventh floor of a hotel to send information to a foreign state. Hieng alleged the location made it convenient for Chhin to commit the crime.

Second, Chhin set up the studio without official permits from relevant authorities. Hieng said without elaborating that Chhin had circumvented legal procedures in running the studio because he had bad intentions.

Third, he said Chhin had continued to send his news reports to RFA even though its Phnom Penh office had been shut down.

He asked the judges to maintain the charges.

Their pair’s defence lawyers, Kong Pisey Sam Chamroeun, urged the court to drop the charges, claiming the prosecutor had never presented solid evidence to back up his claims.

“What information undermined national defence? The prosecutor never proved that the information that our clients had sent out harmed national security,” Chamroeun said.

“Where a ‘foreign state’ is concerned, which country had received information from our clients? The prosecutor never specified either,” he said.

If the prosecutor named the country in question, Chamroeun said, he would request the state representative be summoned as a witness.

The court will announce its verdict on August 30.