The Ministry of Information has disputed a joint statement on impunity for crimes against journalists issued by the Coalition of Cambodian Journalists (CamboJA), Cambodian Centre for Independent Media (CCIM) and 32 other civil society organisations (CSOs).

Ministry spokesman Meas Sophorn said the content and data contained in the statement had not been updated and not based on comprehensive facts or reliable sources.

He said the situation regarding press freedoms in Cambodia is “very good compared to other countries in the world where there are regularly murders of journalists taking place.

“First, it was a conclusion that was not supported by the facts or the law in each case. Second, any presumption or conclusion [made by journalists] before the court’s decision, for example something related to sensitive issues, is not in line with the ethic of a professional media practitioner,” he said.

On November 2 – recognised as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists – the coalition and CSOs issued the joint statement demanding an end to the practice in Cambodia.

The statement calls on the relevant authorities to prosecute crimes against journalists and end harassment, and for immediate action to ensure effective, independent and transparent investigations into crimes against journalists who have suffered injustices in the past.

“A total of 57 journalists had been harassed in the last 10 months [January-October], 23 of them were victims of violence and intimidation; 12 were arrested; 12 faced legal harassment; six were detained for questioning; and four saw their press licences revoked,” CamboJA underlined in the statement.

CamboJA executive director Nop Vy asserted that the data and information in the joint statement were accurate records taken from a recent survey by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Vy also referred to the report by UN special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia Vitit Muntarbhorn, who he said had also voiced concerns about impunity against journalists.

“Overall, whether it is accepted or not … we just expressed our concerns about the recent crimes against journalists in Cambodia and we have shown to the public and the government what the real cases are that have happened in the past,” he said.

However, Sophorn countered that since Cambodia achieved comprehensive peace in 1998, there have been no cases of journalists being killed on the job.

He considered the CSO’s report outdated, noting that some cases of journalist deaths were traffic accidents or conflicts between individuals that were merely of personal interest and not related to the profession, while some cases remain pending amid ongoing investigation.

“CamboJA’s report has not studied this in depth and it has no comprehensive sources,” he said.

Soeung Sen Karuna, a spokesman for rights group ADHOC that supported the joint statement, said that in the past journalists who reported on sensitive issues such as human rights abuses, land disputes and natural resource issues were often persecuted by officials.

He cited a “ban” barring journalists from entering the Phnom Tamao forest area to report on reforestation earlier this year in Takeo province’s Bati district, where the military allegedly used force to enforce it.

“In some cases, there were arrests and confiscation of reporting tools, acts that we consider a serious violation of the profession of journalism.

“In these cases, there should be measures and intervention to help journalists by the information ministry, which should act as the guardian instead of blaming journalists for being unprofessional, because the allegations are usually baseless and hinder the work of journalists that benefits the public,” he said.