Journalists forced to sign false confessions

New York, July 27, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) strongly condemns the conditions under which two journalists covering Vietnamese asylum-seekers in Cambodia were released without charge from a two-day detention today.

On Sunday, July 25, Cambodian officials arrested Sok Rathavisal, stringer for the U.S. government–funded Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Kevin Doyle, editor-in-chief of the English-language Cambodia Daily newspaper. At the time of their arrest, the journalists were reporting on Montagnards, Vietnamese ethnic minority refugees who have been hiding for weeks in the jungle of northeast Cambodia after crossing the border.

Before Cambodian authorities released the journalists today, they were forced to sign confessions admitting that they had engaged in human trafficking. Although Rathavisal and Doyle say they are innocent of the allegations, they signed the statements because, said Rathavisal in a statement released by RFA, “we felt we would not be released otherwise.”

The two reporters had been accompanying human rights worker Pen Bunna, from the nonprofit agency Adhoc, who was granted permission by Rattanakiri provincial authorities to locate and bring to safety a group of 17 Montagnards still hiding in the jungle. Roughly 200 Montagnards, who fled Vietnam after the violent suppression of April protests over land rights and religious persecution, have recently emerged from hiding to seek refugee status with representatives from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Bunna was also arrested and required to sign a similar confession before being released today.

“Sok Rathavisal and Kevin Doyle have reported aggressively to bring the Montagnards’ dire situation to light,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Their work falls within the mandate of the free press guaranteed by Cambodia’s constitution, and the harassment and detention of the two journalists seems clearly intended to inhibit coverage.”