The Kompong Cham provincial prosecutor said Tuesday that he had questioned four supposed journalists and one local NGO worker on Monday over allegations the men had tried to extort money from villagers in the province’s Stung Trang district after the group thought they had located illegal wood at a villager’s house.
Prosecutor Huot Vuthy said he had summoned the men after receiving a complaint from villagers in O’Mlou commune that the group had demanded $300 to $400 to silence potential newspaper articles about the supposed illegal wood haul.
“Villagers complained they demanded money from them in relation to the wood when the journalists found it and asked the wood owner to pay them $300 to $400,” Mr Vuthy said, adding the incident occurred in early April.
“We did not charge them or detain them yet. We wanted them to respond to what the villagers have accused them of,” Mr Vuthy said, adding the court was also investigating the reported finding of illegal wood. He added that four of the men were in possession of media identity cards, which are issued by the Ministry of Information. One claimed he was an NGO worker.
One of the summoned, Tong Sokhon, said he worked for weekly Phnom Penh newspaper Meatophoum. He denied the allegations and said the group had located around 30 cubic meters of illegal luxury wood in the village and had simply sought an interview with local villagers.
“The court questioned me…. I rejected that I demanded money from them,” Mr Sokhon said.
Meatophoum editor-in-chief Sun Sophal confirmed that Mr Sokhon was employed at his paper but referred further questions back to Mr Sokhon.
Another suspect, Chea Lyheang, claimed he worked for a little-known publication called Taphrom and also denied the allegations against him.
“We are not wrong, and we told the court what we knew,” he said.