A journalist in Preah Vihear province says he was beaten up by an army commander after he accidentally witnessed what he suspected to be the illegal transportation of timber.
Sou Senghak, 60, a journalist at Samarakot News, told CamboJA he was attending a friend’s party opposite the Battalion 394 barracks in Choam Ksan district on Sunday night when he happened to see a tractor transporting about 2 cubic meters of wood.
Lieutenant Colonel Yoeung Se, the battalion’s commander, was on the tractor accompanied by a timber broker, according to Senghak.
Senghak said he was about to call out to the tractor to stop, so that he could investigate what was going on, but before he could do so the commander jumped off the tractor and hit him, as well as his wife who’d gone with him to the party.
“They stopped, (Lieutenant Colonel) Se jumped off and beat me and my wife,” Senghak said, adding that his nose was bleeding.
Senghak said he immediately filed a complaint with the gendarmerie, but the commander phoned him today asking that they settle the matter out of court.
“They called me to mediate, but I found it very difficult to accept because he hit me so hard,” he said.
He told CamboJA that he thinks there has been wood stored at that barracks for some time, though it’s unclear who it belongs to. He says he’s been barred from entering the barracks even when he’s needed to go there to report on unrelated stories.
“I do not know who owns the timber. We just know there is wood there, but we cannot enter this place,” he said.
Illegal logging and timber transportation is rife in the area, he said, adding that most of it is from the Preah Roka forest and no action has been taken to prevent the criminal activity.
Si Vuthea, editor-in-chief of Samarakot News, said his reporter had called the military police in Choam Ksan District shortly after the incident, at around 10 PM on Sunday night, and a military police officer told him to file a complaint.
However, on Monday evening, August 22, both parties agreed to end the lawsuit, he said. The newspaper also agreed to remove an article published this morning about the incident.
Vuthea said the commander had explained his behavior by saying he had mistaken Senghak for another journalist accused of extortion, which is why he attacked him.
“He (Mr. Se) heard that a journalist had extorted money from a wild boar seller, and he thought that it was Mr. Senghak. So when he saw Mr. Senghak, he beat him,” Vuthea said.
Contacted for comment, Lieutenant Colonel Se, declined to comment.
Him Khortieth, research and advocacy manager at CamboJA, said that journalists should not be victims of violence.
“The assault of journalists reporting on issues in the public interest is a gross violation of press freedom. All journalists must be able to carry out their work safely and securely. I condemn this violence against Mr. Sou Senghak and call on authorities to bring the perpetrator to justice,” he said.