Local and international NGOs yesterday rallied behind the inaugural United Nations-declared International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists by urging the government to bring perpetrators to justice.
In a joint statement released yesterday, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the South East Asian Journalist Unions highlighted the Kingdom as “a key area for concern in Southeast Asia”, noting the deaths of three reporters – Taing Try, Dave Walker and Suon Chan – so far this year as evidence of the scale of the problem.
“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,” Jane Worthington, IFJ Asia Pacific acting director, said in the statement.
“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.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that the government was not responsible for any crimes against journalists or for perpetrators evading justice.
“We don’t have such authority to arrest or kill journalists. Anyone, any colour, they can do what they like. If it happens, it happens by the people,” he explained. “We have a policy to bring justice.”
After he was reported missing for almost three months, Canadian journalist Walker was found dead in May in a patch of forest in Siem Reap province. His family later claimed the documentary filmmaker had been murdered and the crime covered up.
Chan, a local reporter, was beaten to death in January in an attack that authorities said may have been related to his reporting on illegal fishing. Charges were brought against one suspect who was arrested last month, while four others remain at large.
Try, who had previously faced charges of extorting money from illegal loggers, was fatally shot last month while investigating forest crimes in Kratie province. Three members of the security forces were charged in the case.
The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) said yesterday that impunity was “rampant and widespread” as it launched a campaign calling on Cambodians to take a photograph of themselves holding a sign with their pledge to end impunity, which it will deliver to the government next month.
CCHR executive director Chak Sopheap said that the group was responding to the UN day within the Cambodian context, pointing to the deaths of journalists and activists as well as those killed during the government’s deadly crackdown on striking garment workers in early January as evidence of impunity.
Shot during the January crackdown, So Nang is still waiting for justice.
“It is really important for me that the security forces be punished,” Nang, 28, said. “They cannot have a right to shoot or kill someone without punishment.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MOM KUNTHEAR