Cambodia: charges against journalists Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin must be dropped
Today, the ICJ and 36 other civil society organizations called on the Government of Cambodia to drop charges against former Radio Free Asia (RFA) journalists Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin, who are being tried on spurious charges for multiple offences in connection with carrying out their journalist functions.
This comes after the latest hearing in the case yesterday by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, where it postponed delivery of its verdict for a second time. The Court has now ordered that the case be returned to a new investigating judge for a reinvestigation.
The case is emblematic of a pattern of instances where journalists, human rights defenders, community activists, members of the political opposition and others have been subjected to intimidation and harassment for exercising their fundamental freedoms through misuse of laws and the judicial system.
The ICJ and other organizations have called for a cessation of this practice and urged the government to comply with their obligations under international law to protect these freedoms.
The trial of the two journalists which concluded on 9 August, had initially been expected to result in a verdict on 30 August, before it was postponed until yesterday’s hearing, when it was again postponed.
“These charges should have never been brought against Yeang Sothearin or Uon Chhin – They were brought with the sole purpose of silencing their work as journalists and chilling other independent voices in the country from speaking,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ’s Asia and Pacific Regional Director.
The ICJ has stressed that the case against journalists does not comply with Cambodia’s international legal obligations to respect the right to liberty and to a fair trial.
“Given the arbitrary legal bases upon which the journalists have been charged and tried, the prolonging of their case prolongs this harassment and additionally violates their right to be tried without undue delay,” said Rawski.
In November 2017, Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin were arrested and detained in Prey Sar prison before they were provisionally charged with “supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to national defence” under Article 445 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code. In March 2018, they were further charged with alleged production of pornography under Articles 38 and 39 of the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation.
Both men face up to 16 years in prison. They are currently under judicial supervision, following their release on bail after being held in pre-trial detention for more than nine months.
The journalists were arrested following the shutdown of RFA’s Cambodia bureau in the midst of a sharp deterioration in the situation for human rights and the rule of law in Cambodia prior to the 2018 national elections.
In September 2017, in a statement to the UN Human Rights Council, the ICJ had highlighted that civil society, independent media and the political opposition were under sustained attack in a “carefully orchestrated effort to silence dissenting voices in the lead up to national elections” and that laws were “being weaponized to this end”.
In October 2017, the ICJ in a report on the human rights situation similarly warned that the government was “relying on judges and prosecutors who lack independence to silence dissent and dismantle democracy” through “an endemic system of political interference in high-profile cases and an equally entrenched system of corruption in all others”.
Following the national elections, this trend has only worsened.
In August and September 2019, the ICJ and other organizations highlighted the “ongoing human rights crisis” in Cambodia and called for strengthened scrutiny at the Human Rights Council of the human rights situation in the country.
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Link to Joint Statement available here.
Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia and Pacific Regional Director, frederick.rawski(a)icj.orgNewsWeb stories