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Appeal Court Will Review Delay in Ex-RFA Reporters’ Case

In this photo taken on Oct. 3, 2019, journalists Uon Chhin, left, and Yeang Sothearin arrive at the municipal court, in Phnom Penh. A Cambodian court has ordered a new investigation and postponed a verdict in the espionage trial of the two journalists.

The Appeal Court will consider a motion from two former Radio Free Asia journalists challenging the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision to delay a verdict in their case, which centers around a widely-condemned espionage charge.

The two former reporters, Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, were arrested in November 2017 for alleged espionage and released on bail in 2018. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court tried the case in August, but instead of delivering a verdict, the judge in October asked for additional investigation into hard disks recovered from them.

The Appeal Court, in a document dated November 25 and accessed by VOA Khmer, will consider a challenge to the lower court judge’s decision on January 20, 2020, according to a summons issued by prosecutor Nget Sarath. The two former reporters had filed the appeal on October 14, 2019, shortly after the Phnom Penh court’s decision on October 3.

Appeal Court spokesperson Touch Tharith said the court will hear the motion and base its decision on arguments made by lawyers representing the Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin.

“According to the summons, the prosecutor has summoned them to come to the court for a hearing but there is will be no further questioning,” he said.

The two reporters have spent more than a year on court-supervised bail, restricting their movements. They have said the conditions have made it hard for them to find employment and support their families.

Their case comes amid increasing pressure from the European Union on Cambodia’s human rights record, including press freedom, that could see a suspension of the ‘Everything But Arms’ trade preferences.

Yeang Sothearin said the court has been investigating the case for little more than two years and as evinced during the trial, there was no evidence to support the charges.

“So, I think if the Appeal Court looks into our case and looks at the inaccuracies, I expect the Appeal Court will overturn the Municipal Court judge's decision,” Yeang Sothearin said.

Rights and press freedom groups have frequently called for the charges to be dropped, saying it was having a chilling effect on journalists in the country and preventing the two former reporters from leading their lives peacefully.

Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager at Licadho, said the extended duration of the case was infringing on the two former reporters’ rights and that either the charges should be dropped or the trial should be concluded soon.

“This is a very serious case because it has already taken more than two years to investigate and that's enough for the investigation,” he said. “So, the longer it takes, the worse it violates their rights.”