Updated: March 30, 2021 09:16 AM GMT
A Cambodian man reads the last edition of The Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh on Sept. 4, 2017. The newspaper was shut down after it was slapped with a multi-million-dollar tax bill that its publishers said was politically motivated. (Photo: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP)
At least 72 Cambodian journalists were attacked or threatened with violence while doing their jobs last year and of them 31 were jailed, according to a report from the Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association (CamboJA).
In a 28-page report, it said journalists were often unfairly targeted for exercising their legal rights and freedom in reporting stories.
“CamboJA has recorded 35 cases of harassment against 72 journalists in 2020. The most common types of harassment were imprisonment and violence,” the Cambodian Journalism Situation Report 2020 found. “At least 31 journalists were imprisoned.”
The report showed journalists who reported on the interests of politicians, powerful officials, business and the military were being persecuted through the judiciary and the application of the Criminal Code and not the press law.
“We call on the government to ensure the safety and security of all journalists so that they can exercise their rights to freely report without fear,” CamboJA executive director Nop Vy told the Phnom Penh Post. He also said journalists were vulnerable to repeated assaults.
However, the government was upset by the report, arguing law enforcement agencies prosecuted cases based on facts and law and as such enforcing laws against journalists was not tantamount to harassment or intimidation.
“It means that if a journalist acts in a proper and professional manner with ethics, he or she can fulfill their role in Cambodia freely,” Ministry of Information spokesman Meas Sophorn said.
Huy Vannak, president of the Union of Journalist Federations of Cambodia (UJFC), also defended the government, saying most cases resulted from unethical and unprofessional journalists.
“We recognize that there are journalists who face legal challenges in court. But most of them are online and unprofessional journalists. If journalists are from a professional institution, they don’t face any problems in their profession,” he said.
“At a glance, it seems that authorities are brutal. But it is actually because of some unethical journalists. Their unprofessionalism makes a bad impression on the public and it affects professional journalists.”
Human rights groups have consistently criticized the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen for initiating a crackdown on the independent press which accompanied a court dissolution of the main political opposition party ahead of elections in 2018.
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party won all 125 seats contested at that election and its failure to meet international standards of democracy prompted the European Union to withdraw some trade perks worth around US$1 billion under its Everything But Arms policy.
“The European Union will not stand and watch as democracy is eroded, human rights curtailed and free debate silenced,” Josep Borrell, vice-president of the European Commission, said a year ago in announcing the withdrawal.