Journalists Accuse Ratanakkiri Forestry Official of Intimidation

Four reporters accused a forestry official in Ratanakkiri province of locking them behind the gate of the local Forestry Administration headquarters Thursday morning in an attempt to stop them from reporting on the transport of illegally logged luxury wood.

Ket Sothy, a reporter for Sea TV, said that he and three colleagues from the Apsara News Network, Hang Meas TV and Rasmei Kampuchea Daily newspaper went to the headquarters of the Forestry Administration’s Ratanakkiri cantonment in Banlung City to report on the recent confiscation of a vanload of luxury-grade timber, believing that forestry officials were hiding information about the case.

Mr. Sothy said that shortly after arriving, Vong Sok Serei, head of the cantonment, ordered that the gate be closed behind them, leaving only enough space for Prak Sovann, the Rasmei Kampuchea reporter, to drive his motorbike out.

After Mr. Sovann left, forestry officials closed the gate completely, trapping the other three reporters and their cars inside, Mr. Sothy said.

“In my opinion, I think [Mr. Sok Serei] intended to pressure us so that we would be afraid to report our story,” he said.

Mr. Sothy said he asked Mr. Sok Serei for permission to photograph the van before entering the cantonment’s headquarters.

“He agreed, but when the reporters tried to drive their cars out the gate, it was locked,” he said, adding that the gate was only opened after about an hour, when 10 other reporters from various news outlets gathered outside to demand that the captive journalists be released.

Mr. Sok Serei said he ordered the gate closed because he wanted to discuss a series of “exaggerated stories” that two reporters had written.

“They came to my place. I have the right to lock the gate. It is my right,” he said. “I did nothing wrong, but if I am wrong, they can file a complaint against me with the court.”

Mr. Sothy said the reporters would not file a complaint because they did not want to make further problems with Mr. Sok Serei.

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