A group of timber traders smashed the windows of a journalist’s car while he was reporting on the illegal transportation of timber over the Sekong bridge in Stung Treng province on October 20.
The victim, UMA TV Online journalist Him Math, and TV3 journalist Mom Vibol were investigating timber traders in the province who had been illegally transporting luxury logs. On October 19, they had published an article about how hundreds of wooden handicraft shops across the province had been fueling illegal logging by purchasing wood from the traders.
Math said that late at night on October 20, he and Vibol parked their vehicles near the Sekong bridge in Stung Treng City’s Stung Treng commune in the hopes of filming the timber traders driving across the bridge. As the journalists were waiting, a Lexus car and Highlander SUV suddenly blocked Math’s vehicle, while a Camry and Tundra pickup continued across the bridge, filled with pieces of high-grade wood.
“At that time, I took a video of the activity of their cars, but the Lexus car and Highlander blocked my car, so I could not move and then they used a piece of wood to smash my car’s left windows,” Math said.
He said the drivers had also tried to block Vibol’s car, but he had managed to drive away in time.
Math added that the five men who had gotten out of the vehicles tried to attack him, but he stayed in his car, where he heard one man yell, “It is my timber. Do you know me?”
Math responded that he didn’t know the man, and had only come to the area to report for a few days. He then reasoned with the timber trader, saying that now that he knows the owner of the logs, he wouldn’t make the same mistake again in the future.
“I was injured a little bit because a piece of the window hit my face,” he added.
Math, who covers Kratie, Stung Treng, Mondulkiri, and Ratanakkiri provinces, said he thought the story published on October 19 had angered the smugglers, and he called on the government to do more to protect journalists’ freedom to collect information.
“I send a message to all journalists: When we go out to collect information, please do not go alone,” he said. “If we go to collect the information alone when we have a problem, no one can help us.”
He added that he had filed a complaint to Stung Treng provincial police regarding the attack.
Duong Sivutha, penal bureau police chief in Stung Treng province, said he received the complaint from Math and had sent it to the provincial police chief to review.
“He sued a group of people who attacked his car,” Sivutha said, explaining that they had already identified a suspect. “So, after the provincial police chief approves, we will investigate this case.”
Khieu Kola, a spokesman for the Club of Cambodian Journalists, said that in any case where a person has used violence against someone else’s property, they must face the law.
“We can file a complaint to the authorities there to find the suspects and solve the case based on the amount of damage,” Kola said.
However, he noted that journalists should also maintain ethical standards and should take extra precautions while working on investigative stories.
“We must be careful, and we should alert the authorities about [any crimes],” Kola said.
Information Ministry spokesman, Ouk Kim Seng said that journalists who go to the provinces to report must be careful and should contact provincial information department officials or local authorities before beginning their work.
Nop Vy, executive director at Cambodian Journalists Alliance (CamboJA), said that the case is similar to many other incidents of violence against journalists in which police had not arrested any suspects, allowing the same issues to happen repeatedly.
“I do not know whether the timber smugglers are the same group that had attacked journalists before, but continuing to let them go free means that timber smugglers do not fear the law and they continue to attack journalists whenever they want, making it seem like the country does not respect its own laws,” Vy said.
He said that local authorities should be more active in finding suspects in criminal cases where violence has been used to damage someone’s property, rather than letting the criminals act with impunity, which is fueling more cases and preventing journalists who have been attacked from receiving justice.
“I think that local authorities should be taking measures, they should not be waiting for the decision or agreement from higher level officers, because normally, when there has been a crime, the authorities must take action. If we wait, the suspects can escape,” Vy said.
After a similar attack on four journalists last month in Tbong Khmum province, the reporters still have not received any updates from local police, despite filing a complaint.
The 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 told police the group had committed 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.
One victim, Ren Samnang, a reporter at PMN news, said on October 22 that he still had not received any information from local officials.
“Now, I have not received information from the local authority yet, so I will go to ask them next week,” he said.
Memot District Police Chief Hong Kim Hoeun confirmed that the case had been sent to provincial police 15 days ago, and referred questions to them.
Prak Bun Non, Tbong Khmum provincial deputy police chief could not be reached for comment.