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Former Journalists, Held on Espionage Charges, Have Bail Request Denied

Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, former journalists of the Radio Free Asia (RFA), sit inside a police vehicle as they arrive for a bail hearing at the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April 19, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

If found guilty, the two former reporters could face up to 15 years in prison.

The Court of Appeals on Thursday denied bail to two former Radio Free Asia reporters who were earlier charged with espionage.

Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin are under the jurisdiction of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court awaiting trial for “supplying secret information to a foreign state,” charges they deny.

If found guilty, the two former reporters could face up to 15 years in prison.

Keo Vanny, their lawyer, on Thursday confirmed that the most recent bail request had been denied, saying the court was concerned that the suspects would flee the country if released.

The charges against Chhin and Sothearin also include pornography allegations, though no legal documents have yet been filed relating to these separate charges.

The journalists’ arrest in November came shortly after their former employer, Radio Free Asia, decided to leave the country after pressure from the government.

Sothearin described the case as an “injustice” that followed their critical reporting on the ruling Cambodian People’s Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“The court has investigated for five months but there has not been any result and they continue to only detain me," Sothearin said. “They intend to completely break our spirit.”

But Touch Tharith, court spokesman, claimed the authorities were following legal procedure.

RFA President Libby Liu, in a statement published in response to a recent Committee to Protect Journalists report, which highlighted the Cambodia case, said: “Cambodia, Vietnam, and China persecute and make examples of journalists and sources who challenge the narratives of the ruling regimes.”

“By resorting to desperate measures, these countries unwittingly highlight the impact and importance of a free press,” she added.

“The situation in Cambodia, where two former RFA journalists have been charged with espionage, is especially egregious. Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin severed ties to RFA after our bureau was forced to close in September. Yet two months later they were arrested and charged, and they now wait in prison as a Cambodian court pursues what could be a months-long quest to assemble evidence for the prosecution. It’s an absolute outrage.”