Journalists who have been beaten by security forces while covering recent political protests and strikes by unionists called on the government yesterday to respect freedom of the press.
Three journalists – including a photographer for Agence France-Presse (AFP) – were beaten during a crackdown on a protest led by Beehive Radio owner Mom Sonando on Monday, according to a statement released yesterday by the Press Council of Cambodia.
The council criticised the government for allowing security forces to use violence against journalists, who are protected under Cambodia’s constitution.
“Reporters just work as messengers to spread the social news to the public who want to be informed,” the statement reads.
Tang Chhin Sothy, a 40-year-old photographer for AFP, was beaten by uniformed gendarmerie forces on Monday.
“I told my Japanese friend not to go near the fighting, then they hit [me], and I told them that I am an international reporter and they replied that reporters will be beaten too,” he said. “I was very lucky that I wore my helmet at that time.”
On January 4, Daun Penh district security forces and police units forcibly evicted Cambodia National Rescue Party protesters from Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park.
Son Cheng Chon, a reporter for local newspaper Prey Norkor, said yesterday that members of the security forces had used an electric prod to deliver a shock before stealing his camera during the forced eviction.
Chon has since filed a lawsuit with the district court.
“The security forces shocked me with a stick and took my camera. When I filed a lawsuit to the district, they said that they did not know which group [was responsible]. The man who took my camera wore a helmet and dark blue uniform,” he said.
Daun Penh district security guards often wear navy blue uniforms.
Despite scant reaction from the Ministry of Information regarding the allegations of attacks on the media, Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith in December said that state media would no longer cover opposition rallies after a state TV reporter was beaten by opposition supporters on December 10 at Freedom Park.
Chhum Socheat, director of cabinet at the Ministry of Information, said: “I also saw police beating journalists, but I have no comment,” referring questions to Kanharith, who had not responded to requests for comment at the time of going to press.
Brigadier General Kheng Tito, spokesman for the military police, said the security forces had no policy to target journalists covering protests.
“The authorities have no intention to abuse or hit reporters, since they do not know who is who during the confusion. In those events, there are many reporters, so it is inevitable [they will] affect each other,” he said.
“They did not intend to beat the reporters in order to prevent reporters from taking photos of the protest. We are so sorry for these unintentional actions,” he added.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DANIEL PYE