Gov’t, NGOs Dispute Detention Of Rights Worker, Filmmakers

Authorities in Pursat province on Saturday briefly detained a rights worker and three videographers interviewing residents of an eviction-hit community in what NGOs called the latest move in a growing government crackdown on their work.

Buth Vanndy, an employee of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), was traveling to Pursat’s Veal Veng district with three filmmakers from One Plus Media contracted by NGO ActionAid Cambodia. They were in the area to interview local residents in a land dispute with MDS, a company owned by timber magnate Try Pheap, who also serves as an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Contacted on Sunday, Mr. Vandy said they were in the process of leaving on Saturday morning when their car was stopped at a checkpoint operated by local environmental police who demanded that they meet with district governor Heng Sopheana. “They stopped us for almost one hour, but they let us leave the area after more than 10 local people who worked for MDS came to intervene,” informing the police that the visitors had come at their invitation, Mr. Vandy said.

A statement released by CCHR, ActionAid and five other NGOs said the detention was part of the government’s broader suppression of basic rights over the past year, which has seen the arrests of dozens of rights workers and opposition figures in cases widely seen as politically motivated.

“These threats and actions appear to be nothing more than a blatant attempt to obstruct the legitimate work of civil society organizations to investigate and raise awareness of forced evictions and land rights abuses in the area,” it said.

In a statement of its own, the Pursat provincial government on Sunday accused the NGOs of sending people to the area without asking local authorities for permission and of inciting locals against MDS.

“There was no arrest of human rights staff and filmmakers,” it said. “Checking the documents of the film crew from CCHR at the Veal Veng checkpoint is the administrative duty of local authorities to protect the natural resources.”

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