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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia safer than other regional countries for journalists: group

Cambodia safer than other regional countries for journalists: group

Cambodian rights officials and journalists divided on problem of intimidation, but agree that legal threats against the press are rising

"PARTLY FREE"

The US-based NGO Freedom House ranks Cambodia's press as "partly free", which is the same ranking as Thailand. However, Vietnam and Laos earned the status "not free". Freedom House calls the Kingdom's press "vigorous".

CAMBODIA remains a relatively safe country for journalists, an international media watchdog said, despite the killing earlier this year of a reporter working for an opposition newspaper.

But Cambodia-based rights officials and media experts say legal attacks against journalists have increased, even if physical intimidation is on the decline.

"Compared to other countries in the region, like the Philippines for example, the climate in Cambodia for journalistic practice is generally more peaceful," Red Batario, the regional coordinator for Southeast Asia at the Belgium-based International News Safety Institute, said in an email Friday.

Moneaksekar Khmer reporter Khim Sambo, who was gunned down in July, was the only Cambodian on the institute's tally of 80 media professionals killed during 2008.

The figure, which does not include two additional journalists killed since the list was compiled, marks a significant drop from the 173 media personnel slain in both 2006 and 2007, according to the institute.

Many judges don't like journalists... The libel law need to be clear.

Little changed

Since 1994, at least 10 journalists have been killed in Cambodia, though only Khim Sambo's death has occurred in the last five years.

Rights groups, however, point out that none of these cases have been solved.

Naly Pilorge, director of the Cambodian rights group Licadho, said the crimes have not been "properly investigated and prosecuted, proving again there is an environment of impunity and lawlessness in Cambodia".

"Little has changed in regard to media freedom and safety of journalists in the last decade," she said.

"Until journalists are protected both from physical and groundless legal attacks, media freedom will remain an illusion in Cambodia."

Pen Samithy, the editor-in-chief of Khmer-language daily newspaper Rasmey Kampuchea, said the physical safety of journalists had improved, but agreed that the courts had become the favoured weapon against the press.

"It's easy to get a ruling against the media. Some laws are unclear, and judges will make a decision based on how they think about journalists," he said.

 "Many judges don't like journalists.... The libel law needs to be clear," he added.

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