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Following numerous counts of intimidation, harassment and violence directed towards journalists by authorities, the Ministry of Information has outright denied such incidences despite photo and video evidence.
PHNOM PENH--The Ministry of Information on Nov. 4 said that Cambodia adheres to the promotion of democracy, respect for human rights, freedom of the press and freedom to publish, adding that both local and foreign journalists can work without discrimination or intimidation.
This comes after numerous journalists from a range of outlets reported violent altercations with authorities who harassed reporters while they were covering the small-scale protests that marked the 29th anniversary of the Paris Peace Agreement.
A range of civil society organizations signed a joint statement demanding that the Cambodian government end the harassment of journalists, prosecute those who attempt to intimidate or attack journalists and repeal repressive legislation pertaining to the work of journalists.
Meas Sophon, spokesperson of the Ministry of Information said that the accusations of harassment, intimidation and violence were groundless, despite the range of photo and video evidence highlighting authorities’ heavy-handed approach towards reporters.
“It’s only a strategy of civil society to attract overseas funding and to gain popularity while misleading the public,” said Sophon, who declined to comment on videos showing authorities seizing the camera of one Khmer Times reporter or the reports of harassment from reporters working with VOD, Reuters and Thmey Thmey.
Sophon went on to claim that only 12 of the 57 organizations who signed the joint statement are officially registered with the Ministry of Interior and only one was registered with the Ministry of Information.
“The Cambodian government adheres to the promotion of democracy, respect for human rights, press freedoms and the freedom to publish in accordance with Articles 31 and 41 of the Constitution and the Law on the Press of 1995,” the Information Ministry’s statement read.
Over the course of 2020, supporters and former members of the outlawed opposition party have been harassed, beaten and jailed. Numerous journalists have been threatened, intimidated, jailed or tied up in Cambodia’s judicial system on charges widely regarded as political.
Similarly, peaceful protesters, critics of the government, environmentalists concerned about the government’s approach to development, as well as artists and even monks have been attacked, defamed and imprisoned, despite their rights also being guaranteed by the Constitution.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Information said that previous law enforcement surrounding journalists—notably the politically motivated tax bill that saw the closure of the country’s most prominent independent English language paper the Cambodia Daily—was based on facts and law.
The spokesperson reiterated Cambodia’s commitment to the rule of law and the procedural integrity of the judiciary, a common refrain in a nation where the judiciary has repeatedly been found to lack independence from the ruling party.
“The Ministry appeals to journalists and media outlets to respect the law, journalism ethics, and its contract and not to infringe the rights of other people,” the statement read.
Since 1994, at least 15 journalists have been killed, with at least 12 of those being killed while reporting on the corrupt activities of Cambodia’s rich and powerful. No individual has ever stood trial or faced charges for the deaths of these journalists, according to a report by the Cambodian Journalists Alliance (CamboJA).
CamboJA went on to report that in the first 10 months of 2020, 59 journalists have been harassed in different forms; violence, arrests, murder or legal harassment. Some 27 journalists have been arrested this year, with seven reports of violence against journalists and one reporter killed, CamboJA added.