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Appeal Court Considers Ex-RFA Reporters Motion On Lower Court Ruling

Uon Chhin and Yeang Sotheatin, former Radio Free Asia journalists talk to reporters in front of the Appeals Court in Phnom Penh, Monday, January 20, 2020. (Kann Vicheika/VOA Khmer)

Yeang Sothearin agreed with his lawyer, saying that the elongation of the investigation period was only meant to burden him and Uon Chhin.

The Appeal Court on Monday considered a challenge from two former Radio Free Asia reporters, who are contesting a lower court’s decision to re-investigate espionage charges against them despite completing the trial process.

The Appeal Court will give a ruling in the appeal on January 28 after former RFA reporters Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin challenged Phnom Penh trial judge’s decision to send their espionage case for further investigation, despite completing the entire trial procedure in August 2019.

“The point of the investigation is about burdening my clients and we think that this is a burden on them,” said Sam Chamroeun, a lawyer for the two former RFA reporters.

Sam Chamroeun challenged the lower court’s ruling saying that the investigating judge has around two years to investigate all aspects of the case, but ruled to extend the investigation period after concluding the trial proceedings. The duo were arrested in November 2017.

Yeang Sothearin agreed with his lawyer, saying that the elongation of the investigation period was only meant to burden him and Uon Chhin.

“The judge had a lot of time to decide whether we were guilty or not, but instead he decided to continue the investigation,” Yeang Sothearin said. “I think this is the inability of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge.”

Uon Chhin said the longer the legal proceedings extended the worse the legal persecution against them was.

“We have lost the freedom to do anything; we can’t go to anywhere,” he said. “In short, the continuation of the proceedings is prolonged, just to deprive us of [our rights].”

VOA Khmer could not reach Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson Y Rin for comment.

The two former RFA reporters had made a similar challenge against separate pornography charges against them, but the Appeal Court upheld the Phnom Penh court judge’s decision to re-investigate the charges. The two former RFA reporters were arrested for allegedly providing information to a foreign country in 2017.

Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson said that the failure of the court to deliver a conclusive verdict exposes its position on political and civil rights.

“The Cambodian government is clearly up to its old tricks. Foreign governments should interpret today's inconclusive hearing as yet another signal the Cambodian government refuses to make any concessions on civil and political rights, and fails to respect the principle of media freedom,” he said.

“More than ever, this case has been revealed as a crude tool to intimidate and silence other independent journalists in Cambodia.”