Cambodia: Editor receives death threats

New York, July 7, 2006 — The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by a series of death threats made against You Saravuth, editor of the bi-weekly Khmer-language newspaper Sralanh Khmer . Saravuth has gone into hiding and could not be contacted by CPJ. 

“We call upon Prime Minister Hun Sen to quickly launch an independent investigation into the reported death threats against journalist You Saravuth,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “The Cambodian constitution guarantees press freedom but journalists cannot exercise this right when they face harassment and intimidation.”

On June 23, Sralanh Khmer said that Saravuth had received an anonymous fax with an “X” marked through his photograph. According to the Alliance for Free Expression in Cambodia (AFEC ), citing a complaint filed by Saravuth’s lawyer, the journalist was also threatened by Hun Tho, the nephew of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The media freedom group said the threat was linked to an article published in Sralanh Khmer that suggested Hun Tho was implicated in the seizure of thousands of acres of land in northeastern Mondolkiri province. AFEC said the threat was made during a meeting at Hun Tho’s house.

In a telephone interview with CPJ, Hun Tho denied the allegation that he had made a death threat against Saravuth. He said the Sralanh Khmer story that accused him of land grabbing was false. Hun Tho has filed charges against Saravuth for publishing “false information.” 

In Cambodia, “false information” charges carry possible jail sentences if the court decides to enforce the 1992 United Nations Transitional Authority of Cambodia (UNTAC) laws rather than the more liberal 1993 Press Law. AFEC told CPJ that Cambodian courts have in the past observed UNTAC laws in ruling against journalists even though the superseding Press Law explicitly protects press freedoms.          

Cambodia’s media are often the victim of legal intimidation and official harassment. Hun Sen’s government last year detained prominent radio journalist Mom Sonando on criminal defamation charges for his critical reports about a controversial border demarcation treaty with Vietnam. 

In May, Cambodia’s parliament abolished prison sentences as punishment for criminal defamation charges. Nonetheless, the government has since imprisoned journalist Hem Chuon on incitement charges for his alleged role in leading a protest against security forces that were evicting squatters off land outside of the capital Phnom Penh. Officials have refused to acknowledge that Chuon is a practicing journalist.

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