A photographer from The Phnom Penh Post was manhandled and briefly detained by district police at the Boeung Kak lakeside in Phnom Penh this morning, as he attempted to photograph the demolition of homes for a controversial housing project.
Sovan Philong, an award-winning Post photographer, said he arrived at the lakeside as police and construction workers began dismantling the dwellings of around 20 families.
As he was taking pictures of the stand-off between residents and police, Sovan Philong said he was blocked by a group of uniformed riot police officers and had his camera equipment seized.
“Four or five of them ran to block me – they tried to get the camera from me,” he said.
Sovan Philong said that even after showing the police his press identification – issued by the Ministry of Information – the police treated him “like a robber”, grabbing him by the scruff of the next and pinning his arms behind his back.
“They didn’t care. They just wanted one thing: to get the camera,” he added.
Police also confiscated camera equipment being used by Sovan Philong’s brother, Hong Menea, 20, an apprentice photographer.
After the intervention of residents and NGO representatives and other reporters who were at the scene, the police handed back the two cameras.
In a statement yesterday, the Overseas Press Club of Cambodia condemned the police actions, calling on the authorities “to ensure that members of the press are not obstructed while doing their jobs, and that they are not unjustly accused, harassed or arrested for going about their professional duties”.
The homes at Boeung Kak lake were being demolished to make way for the development of a 133-hectare housing and commercial project by local developer Shukaku Inc, a firm owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin, and China’s Inner Mongolia Erdos Hung Jun Investment Co.
Housing rights activists say more than 4,000 families are set to make way for the project.
When asked on Friday for the name of his superior officer, one municipal police officer stationed outside Shukaku’s lakeside office said his boss had “no name and no phone number”.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment on Friday. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEBASTIAN STRANGIO