Judge’s Seminar Delays Ex-RFA Reporters’ Verdict

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Former Radio Free Asia journalists Uon Chhin (left) and Yeang Sothearin (right) exit the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after their verdict announcement was delayed on August 30, 2019. (Ouch Sony/VOD)

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has delayed issuing a verdict for two former Radio Free Asia reporters accused of espionage because the presiding judge is busy with a seminar for two days.

Court clerk Vun Socheat made the announcement this morning to lawyers, defendants and the press gathered at the court.

Presiding Judge Im Vannak was set to announce the verdict after concluding the case’s final hearing on August 9. A new date for the verdict has not been set.

Uon Chhin, 49, and Yeang Sothearin, 36, were arrested in November 2017 amid a media crackdown that saw dozens of radio stations shuttered and the Cambodia Daily and RFA close their Phnom Penh newsrooms.

The pair were charged with providing a foreign state with information prejudicial to national defense and later with producing pornographic videos. They were jailed for nine months until their release on bail in August 2018.

It is not clear whether the pair are facing up to 15 years in prison for continuing to provide news reports to RFA even after the U.S.-funded service closed its local office, or if their alleged espionage consists of something other than news reporting.

Speaking outside the court after the delay was announced, Sothearin said he was disappointed as the delay would keep him under court restrictions.

“I was waiting for this day because I want freedom faster, and now that the verdict has been delayed, my freedom will remain under restriction,” he said. “The longer it takes to announce a verdict, the longer my freedom will be lost.”

Sothearin asked the court for the new verdict date to be as soon as possible.

He added that he was not worried about a guilty verdict since he was confident he had done nothing wrong.

“If I receive an unjust decision, it would mean that the court committed an injustice against us, because we know clearly that we are clean.”

Sothearin said he wished to return to journalism if he was cleared.

Chhin also said that the delay would leave him living under a cloud of doubt, making it difficult for him to pursue new jobs, particularly in journalism as was his desire.

“It keeps the doubts and worries in my mind,” Chhin said. “We don’t know what the future will hold.”

Cambodia has been ranked 143rd out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 World Press Freedom Index, down one place from 2018.

Local journalists and rights groups have called for the charges against the two men to be dropped.

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