SEAJU calls on Cambodian government for intervention on journalist impunity

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins the South East Asian Journalist Unions (SEAJU) in today calling on the Cambodia’s government to push for justice for the three journalists killed this year in the line of duty. None of the perpetrators of the killings have been prosecuted for their actions and the SEAJU has urged the Cambodian Government to send a stern message that such violent crimes will not be tolerated. 

On the inaugural UN-declared International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, the SEAJU leaders call on Prime Minister Hun Sen and Cambodia as a UN member state to implement the recommendations of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity and to bring the killers of the journalists Taing Try, Dave Walker and Suon Chan to justice.

The IFJ and SEAJU have highlighted Cambodia as a key area for concern in South East Asia and with little progress in the case of the three journalists killed this year has reminded Hun Sen of the cumulative dangers of failure to secure justice in the case of journalist killings and attacks.

IFJ acting director, Jane Worthington, said: “If the Cambodian state treats these attacks passively or fails to understand the gravity of letting journalist killers go unpunished, it too becomes responsible for the suppression of freedom of speech, the rule of law and democracy.”

Taing Try, a 49-year-old freelance journalist for a local newspaper, was killed on October 13 in the northeastern province of Mondulkiri while covering a story on timber smuggling from Cambodia into Vietnam. Try was with seven other journalists when they came upon several ox carts loaded with timber and led by an alleged timber trader, who is reported to be a police officer name Heing. After the journalist’s car became stuck in mud on the dirt road, a confrontation with the timber trader ensued. While the other journalists fled the scene, Heing is alleged to have shot Try in the head. His body was later found at around 1.20 am next to his vehicle. A few meters away, the vehicle of the assailant was found overturned in a ditch.

Three men have been arrested for his murder – a commune police chief, a military police officer and a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) solider, and during questioning all confessed to the crime; however they have not been prosecuted.

Dave Walker, a 58-year-old Canadian journalist and documentary maker was last seen on February 14 in Siem Reap by his production film partner. His body was found on May 1, by a child outside Angkor Thom’s ‘Death Gate’. When his body was discovered it was in a state of decomposition and police said he had died several weeks earlier. No one has been arrested or prosecuted following the death of the Canadian who, according to his family, “devoted his life to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of more than 2 million Cambodians in the 30 years he worked and lived in that country.”

Suon Chan, a 44-year-old reporter for the Khmer language Meakea Kampuchea newspaper, was killed was killed on January 31 when he left his house in Cholkiri district’s Peam Chhkork commune. He had been reporting on illegal fishing in the local commune in the lead-up to his death. He was attacked by a group of fishermen by stones and bamboo sticks. Following the attack he received medical treatment in a provincial hospital but later died of his injuries as he was transported to a Phomn Penh hospital.

On October 7, the trial of Chan’s murder began at Kampong Chang provincial court. Six attackers have been charged with ‘attempted murder’ by the prosecution, in absentia and if found guilty they will face life imprisonment. However since the murder, the perpetrators are still on the run.

While the IFJ and SEAJU welcome the charges against Chan’s killers, more needed to be done to locate and arrest the killers.

SEAJU said: “To mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists on November 2, SEAJU urges Cambodia’s relevant authorities to ensure that the murderers of these journalists are punished in accordance with the laws.”

“SEAJU also calls on the Cambodian Government to continue to find and bring to justice those who were responsible for the killings of other journalists in the country whose cases remain unresolved until now.”

The IFJ reminded Hun Sen that Cambodia’s press freedom is a vital component of democracy and the Cambodian government must work hard to ensure the hard won battles of the last 21 years are not lost.

The IFJ Asia Pacific acting director Jane Worthington said: “The killing of these journalists in 2014 is an extremely worrying development in the political atmosphere in Cambodia that must be treated with absolute concern by the authorities. Silencing by death is the absolute failure of all levels of state responsibility – justice is now the only solution to saving others from the same fate.” 

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

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