Cambodia: Newspaper journalist arrested while covering squatter evictions

New York, June 8, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the arrest of Cambodian journalist Hem Choun, a reporter with the occasional Khmer-language newspaper Samrek Yutethor.

Chuon was arrested June 7 by military police while reporting on the eviction of squatters by security forces at Sombok Chab, 11 miles (19 kilometers) outside the capital Phnom Penh. The same area was rocked by riots May 31 after a young girl was injured by security guards hired by a private company that has claimed rights to the land.

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights said authorities refused to recognize Chuon as a journalist. They have threatened to charge him and two detained villagers with incitement.

“We call for the immediate and unconditional release of our colleague Hem Chuon,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “The ongoing arrests of journalists point highlight deterioration in press freedoms in Cambodia that are guaranteed in the constitution.”

Last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government jailed several journalists on criminal defamation charges for their reporting on a controversial border treaty with Vietnam. Under pressure from foreign donors and press freedom advocacy groups, Cambodia’s lower house of parliament last week passed legislation abolishing prison terms, but not fines, for criminal defamation. But, in addition to defamation charges, the Hun Sen government also detains journalists on incitement and other criminal charges.

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