Two former RFA reporters charged in Cambodia with espionage will face trial on Friday, amid calls from rights groups to drop charges against them in what is widely considered to be a politically motivated case.
Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin were taken into custody in November 2017 and charged with illegally collecting information for a foreign source under Article 445 of the Criminal Code, an offense punishable by a prison term of from seven to 15 years.
Both journalists have maintained that they are innocent of the charges against them, and say they will be vindicated when the case goes to trial.
In a statement on July 24, Human Rights Watch called on Cambodia to drop its case against the two reporters.
The fabricated case against the ex-RFA journalists is intended as a strike against media that dares to criticize the Cambodian government, said HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said.
Chhin and Sothearin should never have had to face these bogus espionage charges, and all judicial restrictions on them should be lifted.
New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists also called on Cambodia this week to free the pair and drop what it called the spurious charges against them.
As long as Cambodia treats journalists like criminals, its reputation as a failed democracy will remain, Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative, said on July 24.
'Evidence and the law'
Speaking to RFA on Thursday, Cambodian Ministry of Justice spokesperson Chin Malin said that statements made by rights groups on the case will have no impact on decisions made by Cambodian courts.
The court will reach its judgment based on evidence and the law, he said.
RFA closed its nearly 20-year-old bureau in Phnom Penh on Sept. 12, 2017 amid a growing crackdown by Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) on the political opposition, NGOs, and independent media ahead of national elections in 2018 in which the CPP swept the ballot.
Cambodian journalists working for RFA had reported over the years on corruption, illegal logging, and forced evictions, among other stories largely ignored by pro-government media, and authorities had already closed independent radio stations carrying RFA reports.
The arrest of Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin came after a warning from Cambodia's Ministries of Information and Interior that any journalists still working for RFA after its office in the capital closed would be treated as spies.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders ranked Cambodia 142nd out of 180 countries in its 2018 World Press Freedom Index, down from 132nd in 2017, citing the crackdown on independent media in the lead up to last year's election.
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