Two journalists in Kratie province have filed a police complaint in Tbong Khmum province accusing unknown assailants of beating them while on a reporting trip to cover forestry crimes.
Ren Samnang, 29, and Muok Saren, 40, are journalists based in Kratie province and work for “Phnek Mnoas” and “Chakra Phup” news outlets, respectively. They said they routinely travel to the nearby province of Tbong Khmum and Kampong Cham to report on illegal timber transport routes.
The reporters said they were sleeping in their car in Tbong Khmum’s Memot district at approximately midnight on September 28 when five to six men attacked them with hammers, axes, and sticks, with Ren Samnang saying the men seemed to come there with the intent to kill.
“They broke the [car] window and beat me,” he said. “I started the car and drove away. They followed us in their van for a kilometer and threw an ax at my car.”
Photos supplied by Ren Samnang show damage to the car and injuries on his back. The journalist said the attack was likely related to news reports his outlet published about a car carrying timber that was stopped by military police.
“I think it is because of that. They wanted to retaliate,” he said.
Muok Saren alleged the assailants planned to kill them, adding that the incident highlighted the risks of reporting on illegal timber transport.
“We take risks because the offenders don’t like us at all. They hate us, but we take the risks and [try to be] careful.”
Hong Kim Hoeun, Memot district police chief, said he had received the journalist’s complaint. “We are taking action,” he said.
Sor Sina, director of Tbong Khmum’s Information Department, said he had sent details of the case and a complaint filed by the journalists to the Ministry of Information.
“A lot of journalists come to that area to report on forestry crimes. It is not good that the [attackers] did this to the journalists,” he said.
“It is good that they reported the information so that we are able to take action,” he said.
Ith Sothoeuth, media director at the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, said the attack is another attempt to intimidate local journalists, who play a key role in reporting sensitive issues in the provinces.
“Journalists in the provinces face a lot of challenges, especially while reporting on sensitive issues like forestry crimes. We know that the forests dealers can be individuals, but most of them are the big dealers who are powerful,” he said.
The Cambodian Journalists Alliance, a local media organization run by journalists, said there were 15 journalists across the country who faced attacks, detentions, or court complaints from July to September.
The country ranks 144 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2020 press freedom index, a significant deterioration since the start of a 2017 government crackdown that targeted journalists as well.
As part of this crackdown, The Cambodia Daily was closed for alleged tax violations in 2017, and The Phnom Penh Post was sold to a Malaysian investor with links to Prime Minister Hun Sen in May 2018. Two former Radio Free Asia reporters have been tried for espionage, with no verdict delivered in the case, and two former Cambodia Daily reporters are awaiting trial on alleged incitement charges over a 2017 commune election story.