Unsolved Slayings of Journalists Highlight Culture of Impunity

While today marks the end of the seven-day mourning period for slain pro-SRP journalist Khim Sambor and his son, the questions of who killed him and why remain unanswered.

Like the eight other re­port­ers and editors who have been killed since Cambodia’s first democratic election in 1993, au­thorities have yet to pin the blame to a suspect.

Incidents of fatal attacks on re­porters in Cambodia have re­duced in recent years, but human rights advocates are highlighting the fact that not a single one of those killings has been solved.

“It is thus essential that the Royal Government authorities conduct a prompt, thorough and credible in­vestigation, bring to justice those who effectively committed this crime and clarify beyond a reasonable doubt its motive,” the UN Of­fice of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia said of Khim Sambor’s killing in a statement last week. “This is all the more warranted in the context of the continued impunity for the past killings of journalists, which have left the impression that perpetrators are above the law and that journalists are not protected by it.”

“Impunity is the single most im­portant factor undermining the rule of law in Cambodia,” the statement continued.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said Tuesday afternoon that he was too busy campaigning to speak about the number of open cases. Numerous police, military police and Interior Ministry officials contacted over the past week also declined to comment on the issue.

All of the 15 to 20 Khmer-language newspapers in Cambodia are considered politically biased, ac­cording to a report issued in May by the local rights group Licadho called “How Politics, Money and Fear Control Cambodia’s Media.” This makes the journalists especially vulnerable to attacks and threats, the group determined.

Accounts of the deaths of journalists since the 1993 Untac-brokered election have been documented by the media, UNOHCHR and Licad­ho. The killings were recorded as follows:

Thou Chan Mongkol, editor-in-chief of the Antarakum, was killed June 11, 1994. Thou Chan Mongkol and his staff penned articles that ac­cused government and military officials of corruption, and his office had already undergone a grenade attack earlier that year.

Nuon Chan, died from gunshot wounds Sept 7, 1994. As editor of the Samleng Yuvachoun Khmer, he published exposés that were critical of Funcinpec and the CPP, and he and his staff reportedly received death threats before his murder. Two suspects apparently confessed to killing Non Chan, but court charges were eventually dropped.

Sao Chan Dara was also killed in 1994. A correspondent for the Koh Santepheap and Preap Noam Sar newspapers, among other publications, he was reportedly shot dead Dec 8, 1994, after writing investigative reports about corrupt timber and rubber deals allegedly brokered by government and military figures. Sao Chan Dara was last seen leaving a restaurant in Kom­pong Cham province with an army colonel named Sath Soeun.

Sath Soeun was arrested in connection to Sao Chan Dara’s death, though never convicted. He was later convicted in 2005 on an at­tempted murder charge involving a separate victim.

According to Kompong Cham pro­vincial police chief Noun Samin, Sath Soeun’s case is closed.

“The killer [Sath Soeun] who shot Sao Chan Dara was arrested and put in Kompong Cham provincial prison because he shot with the intent to kill another person,” Noun Samin said last week.

Thun Bunly was fatally shot while riding a motorbike May 18, 1996. He was a controversial writer, cartoonist and publisher of the opposition newspaper Odom K’tek Khmer who often poked fun at then co-prime ministers Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen.

Pich Em was shot twice and killed on May 4, 1997 during an at­tack on at TVK affiliate station in Sihanoukville. Seven masked men reportedly used AK-47s and at least two B-40 rockets to storm the building soon after the station refused to broadcast a political speech by a Funcinpec security adviser.

None of the suspects in the attack are still alive, said Tak Vantha, dep­uty Sihanoukville municipal police chief, last week. “Now that the offenders all died, all the documents of the TVK station shooting are not clear enough [to investigate],” Tak Vantha said.

Two more journalists were killed that year. Michael Senior, a Cana­dian-Cambodian freelance photographer and TV journalist, was shot while taking photos of soldiers looting a market on July 7, 1997, following the factional fighting of the previous two days.

Ou Saroeun was shot Oct 14, 1997, by security guards outside a Phnom Penh market. Ou Saroeun worked for Samleng Reas Khmer as a reporter. He and his father, the paper’s publisher, had been investigating security guards allegedly extorting money from market vendors.

Following those unsolved kill­ings, there was a six-year re­prieve until two men riding a motorbike shot Chour Chetharith while he was outside the Ta Prohm radio station office on Oct 18, 2003. He was deputy editor of the Funcinpec-affiliated station.

Like many of his slain colleagues, Khim Sambor was a long-time journalist. He had worked for the Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper since 1997, said his editor, Dam Sith.

Khim Sambor was regarded as the “backbone” of the staff and a reliable source of “controversial” articles about corruption and public security, Dam Sith said. He also noted that Khim Sambor essentially ran the paper when Dam Sith was jailed in June for printing Sam Rain­sy comments that linked Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong to Khmer Rouge activities.

“He was one of the smartest journalists, and he learned very fast about any topic or situation,” Dam Sith said.

Police are continuing an “around- the-clock” investigation into the double homicide, said Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth.

Pol Davy, deputy chief of the Phnom Penh military police, said Tuesday that no suspects have been named yet. So far, investigators don’t believe the shooting was politically motivated, Pol Davy said, but added that witnesses said Khim Sambor’s son shouted that the shooting was “for revenge” while calling for help at the crime scene.

“This case is very sensitive, so we must study every angle and possible suspect,” Pol Davy said.

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