Cambodian Prime Minister’s Bodyguards Detain 5 Journalists Covering Environmental Issues

Bangkok, August 22, 2022 – Cambodian authorities must fully investigate the recent detention and harassment of five journalists by members of the prime minister’s security team, and hold those responsible to account, the Committee said on Monday. for the protection of journalists.

On August 16, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguards arrested five journalists from independent media VOD while covering a land clearing operation in the Phnom Tamao forest sanctuary in the southern province of Takeo, according to a report by local media CamboJA News and VOD representative Ananth Baliga, who communicated with CPJ via email.

Accusing the journalists of entering a forbidden area, the bodyguards arrested videographer Hy Chhay and four journalists who did not want their names disclosed, citing security concerns, according to Baliga.

Authorities held the team for about seven hours at the Bati district police station, during which time bodyguards slapped Chhay in the face after he refused to hand over his phone, which he had used to record officers interviewing the group, according to Baliga and this report.

The journalists were released after being forced to sign a statement saying they had flown a drone without official permission in the area of ​​the shrine, the sources said.

“Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit should work to protect, not harass and assault, independent journalists in Cambodia,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s Senior Representative for South Asia. South East. “Those responsible for the recent detention and ill-treatment of independent media VOD journalists must be identified and held accountable.”

Authorities told reporters they were not allowed to photograph, film or fly drones in Phnom Tamao, saying photos and recordings could be used to spread false information, according to a joint statement condemning the incident signed by local and international groups.

Bodyguards also arrested four environmental activists and attacked one of them, punching him in the face and kicking him in the head, according to CamboJA News.

VOD previously used drones to report on deforestation in the area after Hun Sen’s government granted land-clearing concessions to private business groups, a policy that was reversed after news reports revealed the extent of environmental damage, according to the joint statement. On the day of the journalists’ detention, the Prime Minister announced that his bodyguard unit would be tasked with clearing fallen wood and replanting trees in Phnom Tamao following the policy reversal, VOD reported.

CPJ emailed the Cambodian Ministry of Information for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.