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Gov’t Mocks Human Rights Watch Over Appeal for Journalists’ Release

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.

The Cambodian courts are due to announce a verdict for the two jailed journalists on Friday.

The Cambodian government has mocked U.S.-based Human Rights Watch for calling for the release of two jailed journalists.

The rights group, HRW, had called for the release of Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, two Radio Free Asia reporters who were jailed on treason charges for allegedly continuing to work for RFA after it had left the country under government pressure.

Chin Malin, justice spokesman, urged HRW to participate in the legal process, rather than criticizing the Cambodian legal system.

“Rather than issuing statements without legal basis and being vengeful, they should study technical aspects of law, and participate in the court procedures, meaning that seeking clear evidence, studying the law and facts, and gathering firm explanations, looking for smart lawyers to take part in the legal battle over this case in the courts. It's better to do this,” he said.

HRW said in a statement last week that the charges against Chhin and Sothearin were fabricated.

“Ahead of July’s national elections, Prime Minister Hun Sen has been filling Cambodia’s prisons with journalists, activists, and politicians,” Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, was quoted as saying a statement.

“In its reprisals against RFA for its critical reporting, the government has concocted absurd espionage charges against former journalists, who should be freed immediately.”

The journalists’ arrests in November were part of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ongoing crackdown on the media, civil society, and Cambodia’s political opposition.

The journalists were first accused of espionage, before being accused of producing pornography and charged with trafficking and sexual exploitation offenses.

Keo Vanny, a lawyer for the reporters, said he had yet to be presented with any evidence to support the government’s claims.

“For my side as a lawyer in this case and as a legal expert, I haven't seen any evidence ... on them from the court’s side,” he said.

The courts are due to announce a verdict in the case on Friday.