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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Journalists protest charges

Journalists protest charges

The Ministry of Information and two journalist associations have joined forces to

ask that robbery charges pressed against two editors of the Bakong daily newspaper

be dropped.

Bakong editors Nem Bunhout and Phon Sophal were arrested on April 29 for an alleged

extortion attempt against the owners of the Indochina Food Company (IFC). The two

reportedly demanded $500 to suppress a damaging article about the company.

"We wrote to [IFC] to rescind their original complaint [of robbery]," MoI

Secretary of State Khieu Kanharith said. "That's something that the [MoI] can

do to help journalists."

The two journalists are being charged with robbery and extortion under Article 34

of the Untac penal code, which mandates prison sentences of 3-10 years. A May 9 joint

statement from the Ministry of Information, the League of Cambodian Journalists and

the Cambodian Journalists Club urged that the robbery charges be dropped and that

the two men be released on bail.

Om Chandara, President of the Cambodian League of Journalists, described the charges

against Bunhout and Sophal as the result of a conspiracy between the IFC and corrupt

government officials.

"I think this is a trick by the government officials and the company owners

to hide their scandal," Chandara said of the charges against the two journalists.

"The arrest is designed to intimidate journalists and to put pressure on the

free press when journalists uncover scandals."

Chandara said the scandal involved unspecified illegal collusion between IFC management

and officials in the Ministry of Rural Development.

A lawyer for the two arrested journalists, Nou Tepirith, told the Post that the charges

against the two were spurious, as they were based on a simple "business agreement"

between the two parties.

"There was no robbery because the owner of [IFC] made a phone call to the journalists

to come to the restaurant to get money and all the currency note registration numbers

were recorded," Nou said. "I have asked the investigating judge to lift

the robbery charge."

Sam Rithy Duong Hak, Vice President of the Cambodian Association for Protection of

Journalists, said the reporters could not be supported if they had used their profession

to extort money.

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