A Cambodian court on Tuesday issued a warrant for the arrest of a prominent U.S.-based journalist accused of posing as a politician’s assistant to gain access to political prisoners.
Huot Vuthy, known by his pen name Chun Chanboth, the vice president of Radio Free Asia Khmer service, allegedly posed last month as an assistant to an opposition MP to gain entry to Prey Sar prison, where several opposition members and dissidents are being held on questionable charges.
He was called to appear in court on Tuesday, but had left Cambodia on Friday, according to officials.
The warrant, issued by Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Seang Sok, calls on law enforcement to arrest Vuthy on “false declaration” or fraud charges, which are punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine.
Vuthy and Radio Free Asia have denied the allegations and said he would not attend legal proceedings in Cambodia.
A statement from Radio Free Asia said it feared the “politicization” of the case ahead of local elections in June.
“By pursuing this case against him, despite widespread opinion that his alleged actions do not merit prosecution, authorities have only underscored the poor state of free press in Cambodia”, it reads.
Rohot Mahajan, a Radio Free Asia spokesman, said the broadcaster had employed the services of a well-known law firm with a view to having the charges dropped.
“We are working with the BNG law firm with, as I understand it, the possibility of having the charges and/or case dismissed,” he said.
Chin Malin, justice spokesman, said that despite Vuthy leaving Cambodia “the court can still sentence him in absentia once the court determines he was involved.”
Vuthy could not be reached for comment.
The two opposition lawmakers who organized the prison visit, Mu Sochua and Long Ry, were also summoned for questioning last week.
Cambodia dropped four places in Reporters Without Borders’ annual World Press Freedom Index last week, falling behind the Philippines and Myanmar.