More than a dozen journalism and human rights groups have called on Cambodia’s political forces to protect journalists and guarantee citizens’ access to an open and unobstructed press during the current political unrest.
In a statement released Wednesday, the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, along with the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, Southeast Asia Press Alliance and the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) issued their call to the “political elite”—demanding protection for journalists, promoting discipline among police forces and recognizing international standards of freedom of information.
Calling the National Election Committee “incompetent,” the organizations stressed the importance of post-election media coverage.
“In this uncertain political situation, Cambodian people need independent and reliable information to enable them to make decisions,” the statement reads. “Such needs can be fulfilled if the media workers have, on the one hand, a capacity to demonstrate their ethical and professional standards and, on the other hand, are protected and insured by a safe legal environment.”
Comfrel executive director Koul Panha said, “When journalists try to collect information during demonstrations they always have been disturbed or obstructed by authorities and there have also been injuries by the authorities.”
Both Mr. Panha and the statement cite the violent clash between anti-eviction protesters, police and an unruly mob last month at Wat Phnom.
“[The protest] had not only resulted in injuries among the protesters, but also among local and foreign journalists,” the statement reads. “The mob also destroyed the camera of a local news photographer. This incident prevented the media coverage of the violence and obstructed public’s rights to know.”
A member of the mob used a cattle prod to shock a Cambodia Daily reporter during the attack at Wat Phnom as uniformed police officers stood around.
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies and a signatory on the statement, said he encouraged journalists to push forward with their work in these turbulent times.
“We will force the limits, as we understand them, within Cambodian democracy and freedom. If we stop pushing its limits, it will bounce back, so we won’t stay and wait for our freedoms to be limited, we will keep continuing fighting for justice,” he said.
In September 2012, 42-year-old journalist Hang Serei Odom was found hacked to death and stuffed into the trunk of his Toyota Camry in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Chum district. The Cambodian Center for Human Rights said Hang Serei Odom was the 11th journalist to be killed with impunity since 1994.