The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the arrest and charges against two journalists and detention of a third journalist in Phnom Penh between November 14 and 15, 2017. The IFJ reiterates its early calls for the Cambodian government to end the crackdown on press freedom, which is creating a culture of fear among the media.
On Tuesday, November 14, Oun Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, former Radio Free Asia (RFA) journalists, who work under the byline, Yeang Socheameta, were arrested at a Meanchey district guesthouse in Phnom Penh where they were allegedly trying to set up a karaoke production studio. Officials claimed that the KTV studio was illegal because the pair did not have the requisite permissions. However local media suggested that the arrests were the result of the pair sending news reports to RFA headquarters in the US. RFA shut its operations in Cambodia in September after a government-led crackdown on independent media saw broadcasting of RFA programmes impossible.
On Saturday, November 18, a Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating judge ordered that Oun and Yeang be transferred to Prey Sar prison for pretrial detention, after they were provisionally charged with espionage earlier in the day. The Ministry of Interior later confirmed that the pair are being investigated for allegedly setting up a studio for RFA, which they have denied.
In a separate incident, a former Cambodia Daily reporter, Len Leng, was detained and questioned for nearly three hours at the Chaktomuk commune police station on Thursday, November 16. Len was detained for allegedly not having a press pass, as she tried to observe the court proceedings regarding the government opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party. Len’s detention came after the Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief; Chhoun Sovann had said earlier in the day that the trial was open to the public.
The incidents came as the Cambodian Supreme Court ruled on November 16, that the government opposition the Cambodia National Rescue Party would be disbanded, after he was alleged that the CNRP was attempting the overthrow the government. During the court proceedings, civil society organisations including Radio Free Asia, Cambodian Center for Independent Media, the local union IDEA and Cambodian Center for Human Rights were named as assistants to CNRP’s ‘revolution’.
The IFJ said: “The situation in Cambodia has become a strong cause of concern, with the media bearing the brunt of the government crackdown. The culture of fear and intimidation that the government is fostering is only working to weaken the role of the press and its ability to report freely and independently. The press has a vital role, particularly in the lead up to elections, yet the Cambodian government to working to remove this role, which only works to weaken Cambodia’s democracy.”
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946
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