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Murder of Cambodian Journalist Latest In Saga Of Impunity

February 7, 2014
Cambodians read local newspaper (Pic courtesy AFP/RFA)

Suon Chan, 44, who worked for a local Khmer-language newspaper Meakea Kampuchea, was murdered on the evening of February 1, in Peam Chhkork in central Cambodia, allegedly by a group of fishermen. Though yet to be officially confirmed, the likely motive is because he wrote against illegal fishing.

Chan was killed after he was attacked outside his home, apparently when he stepped out to buy cigarettes. He was beaten with bamboo sticks and stones and others who came to help him were also assaulted. He died on the way to hospital from head and neck injuries. The attackers have escaped.
“Like the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media (CCIM) and the United Nations, we urge the authorities to shed light on this act of savagery, to not rule a possible link to the victim’s work, and to bring those responsible to justice as soon as possible,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, head, Asia-Pacific desk of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
There is however some ambiguity regarding the motive of the killing. RSF reported that Peam Chhkork’s police chief, Duong Vuthy, had initially attributed the murder to Chan’s articles about illegal fishing, but had later retracted saying the police were investigating the motive. He had said however admitted that four main suspects and were being sought by the police.
The Washington DC-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) also reported contradictory statements by the police. It said Chhokiri District’s police chief, Morm Thon, had told RFA’s Khmer service that three persons had been identified, but had denied Chan was killed because his recent articles had led to a raid b the police on illegal fishing.
“Through my investigations, the murder is not related to these articles,” he said. “It was a violent fight. We are working to arrest the suspects,” RFA quoted Thon saying.
But unlike what he told RSF, RFA quoted Duong Vuthy attributing the killing to Chan’s reporting on illegal fishing. “So far, we do not know the exact reason for this journalist’s assassination, but according to our preliminary investigation, it is related to the rancour between the victim and the group of suspects, because he used his influence as a journalist in reporting and writing about the suspects’ illegal fishing activities in the commune,” he said.
What is disturbing is the killing is another example of impunity that murderers of journalists enjoy because the government and the police are reluctant to pursuing perpetrators.
RFA said the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) issued a statement, Monday, saying the killing was an affront to freedom of expression in the country. The statement said journalists “are regularly targeted for their work and where a culture of impunity for these crimes reigns. The majority of these deaths have not been properly investigated, with the perpetrators still at large and rewarded with complete impunity for their crimes.
“CCHR urges the Royal Government of Cambodia to ensure that a full and impartial investigation into Suon Chan’s death is conducted and that the perpetrators are brought to justice, not only to ensure justice for Suon Chan’s family but also to promote a culture of respect for and protection of journalists and their work.”
RSF echoed CCHR’s warning against impunity. It said, “If it is confirmed that Suon Chan was killed because of his work as a journalist, this murder would constitute yet another grave violation of freedom of information in Cambodia. A thorough investigation is needed to end the tradition of impunity for those who murder journalists in Cambodia.”
Chan is the 12th journalist killed in Cambodia since 1994.
The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) while condemning the incident also drew attention to recent attacks on media freedom in Cambodia. It said, “Chan is the 12th journalist to be killed in Cambodia and the first since Virakchun (Hero) Khmer Daily journalist Hang Serei Oudom was brutally murdered in an axe attack in Rattanakiri province in September 2012.
“The IFJ is deeply concerned about journalist safety in Cambodia in recent weeks, following an attack by Cambodian authorities on an AFP photographer during a peaceful protest on January 27. The demonstration, led by president of independent station Radio Beehive FM Mr Mom Sonando, was held to demand a TV license and an expansion of radio frequency,” IFJ said.
In 2013, Cambodia ranked 143rd of 179 countries in RSF’s press freedom index.
Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.