Under Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen’s regime, independent media outlets are often facing relentless crackdown on informing the truth. On November 14, 2017, Former Radio Free Asia (RFA) Khmer Service reporter, 35, and his former colleague, Uon Chhin, were arrested over their installation of broadcasting equipment to allegedly report back to the agency’s office without permission from the government.
According to VOA, the two were charged with espionage under a vaguely defined law that criminalizes passing on information that could be deemed harmful to national security to a foreign state. If found guilty they could be sentenced to up to 15 years.
RFA spokesperson Rohit Mahajan said that the broadcaster had cut ties with Sothearin and Chhin after shutting down its Phnom Penh office under the government’s crackdown on free press in September 2017.
In December 2017, Cambodia’s Appeals Court denied bail to Chhin and Sothearin from pre-trial detention in Prey Sar Peison, and the pair were facing a possible jail term of up to 15 years if convicted of the charges against them, according to RFA Report.
According to The Phnom Penh Post, Sothearin was questioned at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on March 7, 2017, on possible new charges of pornography for images found on his laptop when it was seized by authorities. He appeared in court without legal representation. The added charge could carry an additional of one year in prison to the two.
On March 16, the Supreme Court denied bail to Chhin and Sothearin, upholding an Appeal Court decision to continue their pre-trial detention.
On August 21, 2018, nearly a month after the Cambodian elections, Sothearin was released on bail. RFA President, Libby Liu, welcomed the release, but expressed concern for the state of press freedom in the country, “The targeting and intimidation of anyone who has worked as an independent journalist in Cambodia is a clear violation of press freedom.”
On January 27, 2020 Cambodia’s Appeals Court rejected Yeang Sothearin’s and Uon Chhin’s appeal to drop the reinvestigation into espionage charges laid against them.