Cambodia is the single most dangerous place in the world to work as an environmental journalist, according to a new report released by the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) this week.
“Hostile Climate for Environmental Journalists” outlines the harassment, jailing and killing of reporters around the world since 2010 and names Cambodia — where four of 10 such recorded murders have occurred — as the most hostile place of all.
“The level of impunity is disgraceful in India, ranked 140th out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, and in Cambodia, ranked 144th,” the report says.
“RSF has urged the authorities in both countries to conduct serious and transparent investigation into these barbaric murders of journalists with the aim of bringing those responsible to justice. The families of the victims often face a judicial apparatus that is not worthy of the name,” it says.
“Environmental stories used to be discussed last in editorial conferences, but now they jostle with the big news stories for the front page or for the start of TV news programmes. It’s also time to assign the same priority to protecting environmental reporters.”
The report identifies four journalists who were murdered in Cambodia since 2010 while reporting on environmental issues: Taing Try, who was shot in the head by a soldier while investigating illegal logging in Kratie province in 2014; Suon Chan, who was beaten to death by a group of men while reporting on illegal fishing in Kompong Chhnang province, also last year; Hang Serei Odom, who was found in the trunk of his car with an ax wounds to the head after reporting on illegal logging in Ratanakkiri province in 2012; and Chut Wutty, the environmental crusader who was shot by military police while escorting two journalists from The Cambodia Daily to logging sites in Koh Kong province earlier that year.
Outside of Cambodia, environmental journalists have also been slain in India, Russia, Indonesia and the Phillipines since 2010, according to the report.
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies, said reporters who tackled the illicit trade in timber were “taking a big risk.”
“We have to work carefully, as we are pushing the limits of our freedom,” he said, adding that the Cambodian journalists named by RSF — excepting Chut Wutty — had lacked “professionalism.”
“Those targeted in recent years, those reporters from the provinces, have no professionalism,” he said. “They don’t know how to use safe means to collect information.”
In Ratanakkiri, a fraught relationship between reporters and authorities, and dense forests along the Vietnamese border — where much of Cambodia’s illegally logged luxury wood is smuggled — make for a volatile environment for those seeking answers.
Chhay Thy, a coordinator for rights group Adhoc in Ratanakkiri who spends much of his time monitoring illegal logging and providing information to reporters, said that retaliation for exposing individuals involved in the timber trade was to be expected.
“In Ratanakkiri, authorities always threaten journalists who collect sensitive information,” he said.
“The danger for journalists in Cambodia is not that great,” he added, “but threats and fear are always increasing.”
(Additional reporting by Khy Sovuthy)