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Government Failing to Investigate Violence Against Journalists, Rights Groups Say

FILE- Journalists gather at a polling station where Cambodia's Prime Minister and President of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) Hun Sen will cast a vote during a general election in Takhmao, Kandal province, Cambodia July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

The Cambodian government must investigate and punish perpetrators of crimes and violence against journalists, civil society groups said after releasing a statement to mark World Press Freedom Day on Monday.

The statement, which included 45 rights groups and community organizations, highlighted how at least 22 journalists were either attacked or threatened with violence while in the field in 2020. One journalist died in an alleged traffic accident without a proper investigation.

It added that at least 72 journalists were “harassed” by the judiciary, and 42 of them were detained, questioned, or imprisoned. Authorities often used the incitement charge against reporters under Articles 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code.

The groups said this was seen in the cases of Sok Oudom, the owner of Rithysen radio station in Kampong Chhnang province, and Ros Sokhet, a journalist and publisher of the Khmer Nation newspaper. They were both convicted and sentenced to prison last year.

“We are, therefore, deeply concerned about the continued deterioration of the media environment in Cambodia and urge the Royal Government of Cambodia (“RGC”) to cease the ongoing harassment of independent media outlets and journalists for exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression, to end the rampant impunity against attacked and murdered journalists,” the statement reads.

The signatories to the statement included the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, and the Cambodian Journalist Alliance Association, the latter had released a report in March detailing attacks against journalists.

Chak Sopheap, director of Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said on Tuesday that the culture of impunity for people who attacked journalists or murdered them must end.

“But on the contrary, if it’s not like that, then the journalist will be perceived that when something happens to them, they will not get justice, and then the perpetrators are not punished by the law, so it will create an atmosphere of fear for the journalists who perform their duties,” she said.

VOA Khmer spoke to Siem Reap-based journalist Pran Sean who was beaten by two unidentified men armed with wooden sticks on March 13, 2020. The attack severely injured Pran Sean’s head, arms and legs. It took place while he napped on a trip from Preah Vihear to Siem Reap province.

Pran Sean, who owns the Anachak Khmer online publication, said on Tuesday that since the attack, police officials in Preah Vihear and Siem Reap have not initiated an investigation to find the perpetrators. He said authorities must search for the attackers because he believed the attack was not personal disputes-related.

“When it comes to the authorities, there must be an obligation to continue the investigation, but now the authorities are quiet and they have not said anything,” he said.

Since 1994, at least 13 journalists have been murdered for reporting on Cambodia’s elite or allegations of corruption by high-ranking officials and the military, according to the statement.

Ministry of Information spokesperson Meas Sophorn said investigations into these attacks were incumbent on the “participation of the victims” in these attacks, as well as other relevant individuals who need to be questioned when authorities are investigating cases.

“The whole process is under the jurisdiction of the competent authorities. Therefore, only the participation of all stakeholders in the legal process is the solution in seeking justice and fairness,” he said.