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Politics behind journalists' deaths

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The body of journalist Hang Serei Oudom is examined by investigators in Ratanakkiri province. His corpse, which police said bore wounds probably inflicted by an axe, was found in the trunk of his car. Photograph supplied

Twelve journalists have been killed in Cambodia since 1993, according to a report from the rights group Adhoc, which believes much of the bloodshed was politically motivated.

The body count was included in a round-up of abuses against the media in a report the group released on Wednesday.

In addition to the slayings, the tally included the names of 17 journalists who received death threats, 12 who have been imprisoned and one injured in what the group deemed revenge for his work.

“Most of the journalists were killed because of their [perceived] political tendencies,”  Adhoc senior investigator Chan Soveth said yesterday.

Members of the media had also been killed or threatened for daring to probe government corruption, deforestation and the illegal sale of natural resources, he said.

In recent years, fatal violence has ebbed and lawsuits that put journalists in prison have risen.

The list of murdered journalists, however, grew by one in September, when Hang Serei Oudom, a staffer at the Ratanakkiri province newspaper Virakchun Khmer, disappeared from his house when going out to meet a source.

Oudom’s body was found days later in the trunk of a car.

He had written several articles about illegal logging, although the Ratanakkiri Provincial Court ultimately charged a married couple he knew with premeditated murder. No date has been set for the trial.

Previously, there had not been a slaying since 2008, when reporter Khim Sambo was gunned down, along with his son, in a drive-by motorbike shooting.

A year later, Hang Chakra, owner of the Khmer Mchas Srok newspaper, was sentenced to a year’s jail and fined for publishing a “fake report”.

Chakra told the Post the media-freedom situation in Cambodia appeared to be in good shape on the surface.

“Now they’ve stopped filing complaints about incorrect reports, but they file incitement charges,” he said.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan insisted the journalism sector was progressing well and had kept apace with government training of hundreds of officials in how to be spokesmen so as to interact with the media.

“Information isn’t pre-examined [by the government] before being published in our country,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at titthara.may@phnompenhpost.com

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