Rights Group Keeps Focus on Slain Journalists

The cases of 10 journalists who have been assassinated in Cambodia since 1994 still remain unsolved, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights said in a report this week that profiles the journalists as a reminder of threats to freedom of speech.

The group is calling on the government and police to solve the cases.

The profiles describe the circumstances of the slayings, the journalists’ work and information about the investigations. Eight of the deaths took place between 1994 and 1997, with the latest occurring in 2008.

“It is very important that we always call on the government to investigate and continue to investigate. I think it’s important to put the faces to the names, it’s important to recognize that no one is being brought to account,” said Ou Virak, president of CCHR, adding that some of the cases appear to be politically motivated.

Mr Virak said that although no journalists have been slain since 2008, threats to freedom of expression have continued through the successful prosecution of several journalists for disinformation and defamation.

“Instead of being murdered, now they are being jailed,” he said.

Khim Sambo, the most recent victim of the killings, was shot to death in July 2008, two weeks before the national election. His murder followed articles he wrote accusing an unnamed police official of arresting a senior casino worker in Bavet who repeatedly refused to lend him money.

Two men riding a motorcycle gunned down Mr Sambo and his 21-year-old son in Phnom Penh. To date, no suspects or motives have been announced by police.

Moeun Chhean Narridh, director of the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies, said that it is important to remind the government that people have not forgotten the killings.

“When a journalist is killed, a piece of press freedom also dies with him or her,” he said. “If no justice can be found for the killing of any journalists, it will also encourage other people to commit more crimes.”

International and Cambodian human rights workers have raised the issue of freedom of expression several times this year.

In a September report, UN Rights Envoy Surya Subedi cited freedom of speech restrictions as a major problem in Cambodia.

“The prosecution and imprisonment of journalists such as Hang Chakra, editor of the opposition newspaper Khmer Machas Srok, and another journalist, Ros Sokhet, should not take place in a normal functioning democracy as their actions have not undermined law and order or posed any threat to Cambodia’s national security interests,” he wrote.

Freelance journalist Ros Sokhet was released in October halfway through his two-year sentence for a disinformation conviction.

Mr Chakra was pardoned and released from prison in April after serving nine months for publishing articles alleging corruption in the government.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, defended Cambodia’s record on freedom of speech, and said the killings cannot be called politically motivated since a motive has never been determined.

“These cases are still open for investigation,” he said, adding that disinformation and defamation cases were prosecuted according to the law.

“This press law is very clear…. Everyone in the business of publishing or reporting as a journalist, you have to respect the right of people to receive honest information.”

Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the murder cases on the journalists cited in the CCHR report are still open.

“We still open the case, and we appeal to the victims’ families and witnesses to supply more information,”  he said.

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