Five journalists from VOD, a local independent media outlet, and four environmental activists from Khmer Thavarak, a youth social justice group, were detained for questioning on August 16 by officers from the Prime Minister’s bodyguard unit (BHQ). The group were taken to Bati district police station in Takeo province and remained in detention for seven hours.
According to reports, two of the individuals were assaulted by BHQ officers while held in detention. VOD’s videographer was slapped across the face after he refused to hand over his phone to authorities, which he had been using to record officers questioning the group. An activist from Khmer Thavarak was punched in the face multiple times and kicked in the head.
Prior to the incident, Khmer Thavarak had requested permission from the Provincial Agriculture Department to verify where land clearing had taken place. Authorities claimed that the group had entered a restricted area, which provided grounds for their arrest.
The group were released from detention only after they signed a contract conceding that they had used a drone to capture footage and images of the sanctuary without approval from authorities.
The Cambodian public has widely condemned land clearing in the Phnom Tamao forest, with thousands of hectares of state-owned forest transferred to private owners, who promptly began excavating sections of the land in recent months.
In Cambodia, authorities have a history of targeting journalists, media workers and activists, particularly those exposing environmental offences. In 2012, Hang Serei Oudom, an investigative reporter for the Vorakchun Khmer Daily was found murdered in northern Ratanakiri Province for reporting on illegal logging. In a similar incident two years later, journalist Taing Try, also investigating illegal logging, was killed in Kratie province.
CamboJA Executive Director, Nop Vy, said: “I condemn all kinds of violence against journalists. Harassment against journalists is continuing to create harm to freedom of information and journalists’ rights. Again, I call on the Cambodian government to take serious in following our constitution and international law respectively.”
The IFJ said: “The assault and detainment of journalists reporting on issues in the public interest is a gross violation of press freedom. All media workers must be able to carry out their work safely and securely. The IFJ condemns the detainment and assault of journalists and activists in Phnom Tamao forest and calls on the Cambodian authorities to uphold freedom of expression and information.”