Journalists were subjected to violence, threats and criminal charges in 2020, as the Cambodian government targeted the free press but did not investigate crimes against reporters and editors, according to a new report.
The Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association (CamboJA) released the report on Monday, in which it recorded 35 cases of harassment against 72 journalists. The most common types of harassment against journalists were imprisonment, and violence, with online journalists, 64 of the 72, faced the brunt of the authorities’ intolerance to critical journalism.
The attacks against journalists were in part linked to the government’s crackdown on opinions and news critiquing the authorities’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year’s crackdown builds on one that started in 2017 that resulted in the closure or sale of independent news organizations in Cambodia.
“The Cambodian Criminal Code remains a powerful legal tool, which is too often used to intimidate and jail journalists,” the report reads.
The incitement to commit felony or extortion charges was most used against journalists facing criminal charges in 2020. Ten journalists were still in prison on these charges, according to CamboJA.
A majority of the cases were registered in Phnom Penh, Kratie and Ratanakkiri provinces, with 64 people from online publications, four TV journalists, three newspaper reporters and one radio station owner.
Him Khortieth, research and advocacy manager at CamboJA, said authorities had not paid attention to cases where journalists were attacked and that journalists, who were harassed by officials, were often reporting on the illegal timber trade, land disputes or COVID-19.
“Authorities have not yet found any suspects to be penalized, especially when there was violence against journalists,” he said.
Ren Samnang was with three local online journalists when they were attacked last September by a group of men posing as timber traders. He was disappointed that the police and officials had not yet found perpetrators of the attack.
“I think they aren’t paying attention to finding justice for journalists,” he said. “I don’t know the reason [why].”
Samnang, who is a reporter at PMN News, was attacked and injured his left ribs while he was asleep in his car along with Mouk Saren from Chakrapop News, and Ran Khorng and Teng Norin from Eysan Post, as they documented illegal timber transports to Vietnam.
Justice Ministry Spokesperson Chin Malin criticized the report and used the government’s oft-used argument that the document was only meant to serve the interests of foreign donors and was not reflective of the situation on the ground.
“If CamboJA has produced a report like this for satisfying foreign donors or to serve a foreign political agenda, this report has no use in society or to promote and protect the rights and freedom of journalists,” he said.
He said CamboJA should instead analyze if journalists had committed criminal offenses, which the journalist association has done in the report.
Meas Sophorn, a spokesperson at the Information Ministry, also rejected the report’s findings and conclusions, saying CamboJA had ill intentions to confuse public opinion with this report.
“This report has baseless accusations about the institution of law enforcement,” he said.
“Law enforcement against journalists who have broken the law isn’t harassment, persecution, or intimidation of journalists,” Sophorn said.