New York, October 20, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the Saturday, October 18, assassination of Chou Chetharith, a deputy editor of the royalist FUNCINPEC party’s Ta Prum radio station. A gunman riding on the back of a motorcycle shot Chetharith on his way to work in the capital, Phnom Penh.
According to witnesses interviewed by Agence France-Presse, Chetharith, 37, was shot in the head at point-blank range in broad daylight. Local sources tell CPJ that Ta Prum is known for its critical reporting of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, and that the station’s director, Noranarith Anandayath, is an adviser to FUNCINPEC party chief Prince Norodom Ranaridhh.
On Friday, the day before the shooting, the prime minister criticized Ta Prum in the English-language Cambodia Times, accusing the station of insulting his leadership.
Chetharith’s murder came ahead of scheduled three-way talks between the FUNCINPEC party, the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). The talks were canceled after the journalist’s killing. They had been aimed at ending a three-month political stalemate following the July 27 elections, when Hun Sen and his CPP failed to garner a two-third majority of the vote. By law, the CPP was required to form a coalition with opposition parties but refused to do so.
No arrests have been made in the case, and Chetarith was buried today outside Phnom Penh. Sau Phan, a deputy general of the National Police and a member of FUNCINPEC, told Agence France-Presse that an investigative committee has been formed with FUNCINPEC and CPP party members to pursue the case.
“While the motives of Chetarith’s murder are unclear, this brazen shooting sends a chilling message to journalists who dare to criticize Cambodia’s government,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on the Prime Minster Hun Sen to fully investigative Chou Chetarith’s murder, and to work to bring his killers to justice.”