The International Federation of Journalists today welcomed the decision by the Cambodian authorities to release from custody two journalists arrested while covering the migration of Vietnamese refugees into Northern Cambodia.
On 25 July, two journalists, Kevin Doyle, an Irish national and editor-in-chief of The Cambodia Daily and Sok Ratha, Cambodian reporter for Radio Free Asia were detained in Ratanakkiri Province, 588 kilometres northeast of Phnom Penh, by government officials for alleged human trafficking. The journalists had been covering the story of the migration of the Montagnards from Vietnams Central highlands into Cambodia.
“We welcome the release of our colleagues,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, “but we remain astonished as to why they were detained in the first place. We can only assume that they are the victims of censorship and intolerance on the part of the authorities”.
The two journalists, along with Pen Bunna, of the Cambodian human rights group ADHOC, and his interpreter were finally released yesterday following 48 hours of “secrecy and deception” by the Cambodian authorities. The IFJ monitored the situation closely with its affiliate, the Cambodian Association for Protection of Journalists, who confirmed that early yesterday the two journalists arrived safely in nearby Ratanakiri province and were expected to return to Phnom Penh this morning.
On July 26, during a press conference, Mr. Long Visalo, State Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “the two journalists had performed illegal tasks beyond the capacity of the profession”, and Mr. General Khieu Sopheak Spokesman for the Interior Ministry said he would “bring charges against the two journalists for human trafficking”.
“Such attempts to harass and intimate journalists are a gross misunderstanding of the essential nature of the profession to work as the watchdogs of society,” said White. “It is essential that the government disown those responsible and give undertakings that journalists will be able to report freely in the future”.
Radio Free Asia stated that it believed the four individuals' arrest was intended to frighten Vietnamese asylum seekers away from Cambodia and prevent the media from reporting on the plight of the Montagnards, who were United States allies in the Vietnam War.
The Cambodia Daily has been reporting aggressively on the plight of the Montagnards. Bowing to international pressure, the Cambodian government, which forged special ties with their Vietnamese counterpart during the Vietnam War, recently began allowing the Montagnards to enter Cambodia.
The IFJ recalls the “brutal killing” of Chou Chetharith, a senior political editor of the royalist Funcinpec party's Ta Prum radio, in October last year, only days after Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen accused the broadcaster of insulting his party.
“Cambodia desperately needs reliable, professional information to create confidence in democracy and to resolve the current crisis. A climate of fear and intimidation will only drive this country backwards.”
To read the IFJ protest letter (27/07/04) to the Cambodian Minister of Information please click here
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries