Journalist Detained Over Logging Story

A journalist who accused a military police commander of accepting bribes from illegal loggers in Mondolkiri province was arrested and briefly detained on Thursday on the commander’s orders, a move that was criticized by the Ministry of Information.

The journalist, Vann Tith, is a provincial correspondent for national television station TV9. On Wednesday evening, the station broadcast a segment based on a story he filed, claiming that Sak Sarang, the provincial military police commander, was taking money from illegal loggers to allow them to work inside the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area.

A man on a motorbike drives past TV9's headquarters in Phnom Penh on Thursday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
A man on a motorbike drives past TV9’s headquarters in Phnom Penh on Thursday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The next morning, four military police officers arrived at Mr. Tith’s home in Keo Seima district and ordered him to get into an armored car, which drove him to the district military police headquarters and then on to the force’s provincial headquarters, according to Vong Rachana, chief of the provincial military police’s penal bureau.

“We detained him because he wrote the story without the facts. It affected the honor of our commander. The commander ordered us to bring him in to clarify what he wrote,” he said.

Although Mr. Rachana acknowledged that the military police did not have an arrest warrant for the journalist, he said the order to detain Mr. Tith had come directly from Brigadier General Sarang.

“My boss lets them report news, but it must be clear. Sometimes a story is as small as a finger, but it is exaggerated to be as big as a thigh,” he said.

Mr. Tith, the reporter, said that military police had confiscated his mobile phone at the district headquarters before sending him to the provincial headquarters, where he was questioned by Brig. Gen. Sarang directly.

“He told me to stop linking his name to the timber industry,” Mr. Tith said.

The journalist was released without charge after about two hours.

Brig. Gen. Sarang could not be reached for comment.

Ouk Kimseng, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Information, said the actions of Brig. Gen. Sarang and his subordinates were against the law.

“Actually, the authorities have no right to arrest a reporter unless he has done something that is against the law,” he said. “But what he wrote about is a sensitive story for the military police. We will look into this case.”

TV9 was launched by one of the Funcinpec party’s founding members, Rada Khieu, in the early 1990s, but its officers were looted during factional fighting in 1997 and taken over by the ruling CPP. Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said on Thursday that the station was now owned by the family of Senior Minister Khun Haing, a former Funcinpec official who later defected to the CPP.

The office manager of the TV9 headquarters in Phnom Penh declined to comment.

Pa Ngoun Teang, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, said he was concerned about the fact that Brig. Gen. Sarang had ordered Mr. Tith to be summarily arrested over his reporting.

“To arrest reporters without going through court procedures is wrong.”

Mr. Tith’s story centered around alleged illegal logging on the Vietnamese-owned Binh Phuoc Kratie Rubber 1 plantation, which is located inside the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area.

In August last year, military police forced a group of Forestry Administration officials at gunpoint to release the drivers of four trucks full of illegally logged wood bound for the plantation.

(Additional reporting by Taylor O’Connell)

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