Two local journalist associations are planning to file a complaint with the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) this week accusing the Preah Vihear Provincial Court’s acting chief prosecutor of charging journalists with extortion because they reported on an illegal-logging racket inside his family.
The Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ) and the Khmer Journalists Democracy Association (KJDA) are working together to compile evidence that Long Sitha, the acting chief prosecutor, had a direct interest in cases he has worked on, KJDA president Sok Sovann said Wednesday.
“Our investigating team is collecting all the information regarding Long Sitha’s interests, including his uncle, Hor Sokhong, who is a major general in the military police and an accomplice in illegal logging,” Mr. Sovann said.
“We have photos and will submit them to the ACU either tomorrow or the next day,” he added.
Mr. Sovann said Mr. Sitha’s father-in-law was also involved in the scheme, and that both the father-in-law and uncle own furniture shops at the center of an extortion case brought against reporters from Apsara TV and state-run Agence Kampuchea Presse (AKP) last month.
According to officials in Preah Vihear, AKP journalist Tith Sro, 43, and Apsara TV reporter Chhoeung Chan, 45, threatened to report truck driver Chheang Mao to authorities over a shipment of first-grade Phchoek logs unless Mr. Mao paid him $400.
Mr. Sovann said Wednesday that the case was fabricated, both as an act of revenge against the journalists’ past reporting and in reaction to ongoing investigations into logging in the province.
“The arrest of the AKP journalist and Apsara TV reporter is a revenge case because recently, in October 2014, there was a working group from the Agriculture Ministry who went to crack down on illegal furniture shops in Preah Vihear province,” he said.
“[They] confiscated more than 100 cubic meters of luxury wood from 12 furniture shops…with help from our journalists, who were then arrested recently and detained in the Preah Vihear provincial prison,” he added.
The KJDA president said the extortion case against Mr. Sro was made through false evidence after the reporter observed luxury wood being transported to the acting chief prosecutor’s furniture shop.
“It was well organized, and they arrested our journalists by copying a $100 note and 100,000 riel note for a total of $125 as evidence to arrest our journalists [on claims] they extorted money from the loggers,” he said.
Maj. Gen. Sokhong, the uncle, denied Mr. Sovann’s accusations and said he was neither involved in an illegal logging racket nor in the arrest of any journalists over extortion.
“In fact, I am not involved in the arrest of any AKP journalist and I am not involved in rosewood gangs, or smuggling at all. My duties are different from what they have accused,” he said.
Mr. Sitha, the acting court prosecutor, also denied that he had any interests in illegal logging operations in Preah Vihear or was trying to prevent the two journalists from reporting in the province.
“The media can accuse [us of] anything they want to, and I dare not oppose them; it is their right. But they need to respect their own rules,” Mr. Sitha said.
“We arrested the AKP journalist and Apsara TV reporter because people had complained to the court. I have no power to chase them out of Preah Vihear province.”
Mr. Sitha also warned that he would countersue the journalists and their associations if the ACU finds him innocent.
“If the ACU does not find us guilty, and this is a case of intimidation, we will file a court case back against them, including the clubs,” he said.