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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sham journalist admits to extorting officials in Pursat

Sham journalist admits to extorting officials in Pursat

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After a month in prison, a local con man still awaits charges as past employer distances himself from errant reporter

Photo by: RICK VALENZUELA

Set Borind, 23, has been married for two years to Him Mao, an accused con man detained in Pursat. "I haven't any means to free my husband from prison," she said last Tuesday.

Pursat Province
HIM Mao, a self-described journalist arrested one month ago in Pursat, is still being held in detention, with authorities refusing to stipulate what he will be charged with or when he will be released.

Prosecutor Sok Chan Sareyvuth refused to speak with the Post Sunday, saying he was "afraid to talk with journalists because they always record my voice".

Him Mao, 34, claims he has been working for four years  for the local newspapers Koh Ke and Bayon - both weekly, four-page colour newspapers distributed by hand in Pursat. Him Mao was arrested September 27 in Pursat's Bakan district while attempting to photograph illegal loggers.

"I am accused of fighting with military police," he said. "But how can I fight with police when it was me and a colleague against five of them?"

"I did nothing wrong," he added. "I saw the loggers hand over 50,000 riels ($12.50) to the military police, and I asked them where the money came from and what it was for. After that I tried to take a photograph, and they beat me and I was arrested."

Him Mao claims he is innocent on this occasion, although he does admit to taking bribes from sources as a regular part of his job. "Sometimes I write stories about ministers and ministries and the bad things they do. Then I show them the story before it is printed and they usually pay me to stop it being published," he said.

"I never receive big money, just 5,000 riels here and there. I know that is not how journalists are supposed to work, but what can I do? I have no other skills."

An act of desperation

Him Mao has had no formal journalism training and earns no salary. At the end of each month he said he took the  collected bribes to his editor-in-chief, who then paid him a small amount to cover transport and accommodation costs.

Him Mao says that since he was arrested, Sin Khem, his editor-in-chief at Koh Ke, has refused to pay him anything, and when the Post called on Sunday, he stated that Him Mao was not currently in his employment.

"The provincial journalists are very bad," he said. "The reason this man had a media pass issued by my newspaper is that he has worked for me in the past, but I fired him two years ago. He is still using that same media pass and that is illegal."

However, Him Mao's media pass is current, and he claims it has been updated regularly every three months.

"I have no lawyer," added Him Mao. "I am hoping my editor-in-chief will help me, but he just keeps telling my wife to wait. It has been one month already, and I have received no help or advice."

His wife, Set Borind, 23, says she is at a loss at how to help her husband. "I don't know what to do, how to get him released. His boss has told me that he will help me settle this problem, but I have waited for one month already," she said.

Seth Borin said she knew her husband did not the follow journalistic ethics, but added that what he does is necessary since they have no other form of income.

"He is working without salary, so he asks for some money from his sources to buy rice to support our living. He only asks for small money - he has never asked for big money. I think working as a journalist is a hard job, with many struggles. I have asked him to stop many times but he doesn't listen to me. He says that it is his favourite job," she said.

Pen Samithi, director of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, says Him Mao's arrest has nothing to do with his work as a journalist.

"According to our research, the newspaper Mao works for is not in print, and his activities bear no relation to journalism," he said.

"He has been using his media pass illegally. If we had any evidence that he was conducting proper journalism work, we would help to settle this problem and petition for his release. But at this time, we have no such evidence and have had no communication from his editor-in-chief."

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