A group of Phnom Penh municipal police at a Boeng Kak lake eviction site yesterday attacked a photojournalist, confiscated his camera and forced him to delete images from it, the journalist and residents said.
Sovan Philong, of the English-language Phnom Penh Post, said yesterday that he and his brother, a photography student, were taking photos of 19 homes being demolished by work crews for the development of lake area when they were confronted by municipal intervention police overseeing the demolition.
“About four to five police officers with shields and electric batons came to confiscate my camera, which caused a scuffle. Some of them pushed me and grabbed me by the collar to take the camera,” said Mr Philong, who sustained a minor injury to his head.
He said police also took his brother’s camera and returned both cameras more than an hour later, only after he agreed to delete all photos. He said he had not decided whether to file a lawsuit in the case because he needs to discus the matter with his superiors. He said the photos would have shown police pushing residents.
“They probably were scared of photos showing them pointing guns at villagers, but I didn’t get shots of that,” he said, adding that his press identification card was clearly on display when he was attacked.
Residents of the Boeng Kak lake area yesterday decried the deletion of the photos, which they said would expose how police intimidated and pushed villagers, who had only a day’s notice about demolition and eviction.
“We regret that all the photos were deleted…. He took a lot of good pictures of the cruelty and how they demolished our house and the confrontation of police and villagers,” said Vorn Soklang
Seng Davuth, another resident, said police treated the photographer like a criminal.
“They shouted ‘catch him, catch him!’ The action was brutal. It seemed like they were arresting robbers,” he said.
Lake resident Heng Hoeun said he and his neighbors had rejected offers by Shukaku Inc, the developer that has a 99-year lease on the land around the lake, of $1,000 and 2 million riel for their relocations, wanting instead $8,000 and 2 million riel. A notice Thursday from the Daun Penh district authorities gave villagers only a day to move.
“We did not agree to move but they forcibly moved us,” he said.
Shukaku, which is owned by CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin, recently joined with Erdos Hung Jun Investment to create Shukaku Erdos Hongjun Property Development Co Ltd, which is now running the project.
Municipal police chief Touch Naruth, Ministry of Interior spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak and National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith could not be reached for comment.
Sok Phal, the deputy chief of the National Police, said he was unaware of the incident, and declined comment.
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies, said the incident was a violation of press freedoms and called for an investigation and the punishment of the officers involved.
“It is against the law and it is against the position of the government to harass journalists who are doing their professional jobs, whether to report on the story or take photographs,” he said.
The government also must educate police about press rights to prevent further incidents, he said.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said he had suggested to Mr Philong that he file a lawsuit against police and called their actions “unacceptable and in violation of press freedom.”
“The police have no right to confiscate camera. Only the court has. And unless there is a clear sign of ‘No Photo Allowed,’” he wrote in an e-mail.
Pen Samitthy, president of the Cambodian Club of Journalists, said the incident took place in a public place where people should be free to take photos.
“Such an event should never happen again,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Tim Sturrock and Phorn Bopha)