Four local online news journalists were attacked on September 28 by a group of men who they say were timber traders seeking revenge after the reporters had singled them out to police for committing forestry crimes.
The group of reporters from PMN news, Chakrapop news and Eysan Post filed a complaint at the Memot district police station in Tbong Khmum province against several suspects who they say threw a log through the window of their car and beat them with sticks and axes, injuring two.
Memot District Police Chief Hong Kim Hoeun confirmed receipt of the journalists’ complaint.
“Yes, we have received it and [we] are working on that case,” he said before declining to comment further.
One victim, Ren Samnang, a reporter at PMN news, said he was asleep in his car along with Muok Saren from Chakrapop news, and Ran Khorn and Teng Norin from Eysan Post news, when the attack occurred.
“I was traveling from Snoul district to Phnom Penh and upon arriving in Memot district, we pulled over to take some rest and fell asleep,” said Samnang, 29.
“We were sleeping [in the car] for about an hour when at about 12:30am, we heard a sound hitting the car,” Samnang said.
Upon realizing that someone had hurled a log through the front driver’s side window, he started the engine and began to drive away.
The group of about five suspects then returned to their truck to chase after the journalists, eventually crashing into their car and running it off the side of the road.
“I jumped out of the car and started to run away,” he said, adding that the log thrown through the window had injured his left rib, and that the timber traders had also smashed off one of the vehicle’s mirrors and dented the exterior.
Samang said he had recognized the attackers and realized the assault was in retaliation to the journalists’ investigation of forest crimes in the area. On September 26, the group had reported an incident of illegal logging to military police in Memot district, which resulted in the officials stopping a truck transporting timber through the area.
He said the journalists were present to report on the case when military police stopped the vehicle, but that the four or five men on board had gotten away.
“[Before running], the driver took a picture and said ‘Either your car will be damaged or we will cause you harm,’” Samnang recalled.
“I think that they wanted to kill us,” he added.
He called on police to take legal action and arrest the suspects so that they would not repeat their crime in the future.
Saren said his leg was slightly injured in the attack, and echoed Samnang’s assertion that the attackers were part of the group of timber traders that they had encountered two days prior.
“They [suspects] came to beat us up without even asking us anything and damaged our car,” he said.
“I think that it is a threat to all journalists not to report [forestry] crimes in the future,” Saren said, emphasizing that the attack would not deter his future work.
Sar Sina, director of the provincial information department said September 29 that his department has already forwarded the case to the Information Ministry.
“Police are working on that case, we have not yet investigated it,” he said, adding that those journalists had filed a complaint with the district police.
“It is a violent act that should not happen to journalists,” Sina said.
Nop Vy, executive director at Cambodian Journalists Alliance (CamboJA), said he was disappointed in the use of violence against the journalists, noting that reporters play an important role in monitoring and preventing illegal acts, including forestry crimes.
“We know that forestry crimes are continuing to happen, and some cases involve local authorities and people who are powerful and rich,” he said.
“It is dangerous and risky for journalists, so I think that local authorities have to take effective legal measures to arrest the culprits,” Vy said, adding that if authorities decline to take legal action, it will encourage the suspects and they may even attack other journalists in the future.
Vy said that the persecution of journalists “is a serious threat to their life and personal safety.”
In a separate case in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district, Kouy Piseth, 24, a reporter for CBN TV Online, died in a traffic accident in the early hour of September 29.
Theng Kosal, Choamchao III commune chief, clarified that the death was caused by a road collision, and was not a murder, as public people had originally suspected.
The victim had driven his motorbike very fast up a hill and had been thrown off, hitting his head on a rock on the ground, Kosal said.
“It is not a murder case, but it was a traffic accident he caused himself,” the commune chief said, explaining that police were initially unsure because the body was found 40 meters away from the victim’s motorbike.
CBN TV Online General Director Chhai Sochet said he had not seen Piseth since the reporter had left the office at about 11:30pm, and that he was saddened to hear of his death.