Journalist flees country after receiving death threat

New York, June 22, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned about an anonymous death threat made Saturday against Radio Free Asia (RFA) reporter Lem Pichpisey. Fearing for his safety, Lem fled across the Thai-Cambodian border the next day and is now in exile in the Thai capital, Bangkok.   
Lem told CPJ that he received the threat on his mobile telephone while driving in the outskirts of the capital, Phnom Penh. The anonymous caller told the reporter “to beware” and warned that he “could be killed” for his radio reports on alleged illegal logging activities, he said in recounting the incident.

“I didn’t want to leave my country and stop my reporting,” Lem told CPJ in an interview on Thursday, “but my life was in danger.”

The threat followed a series of RFA reports in which Lem followed up on allegations of official complicity in illegal logging activities. The charges were first made in a research report issued by Britain-based environmental watchdog group Global Witness.

Lem’s broadcasts included undercover reporting in the Prey Long forest of central Kompong Thom province. Lem told CPJ that he had been followed by people he believed were plainclothes military police while in the Prey Long forest and later in the capital.

“We call on Cambodian authorities to launch an independent investigation into the death threat made against Lem Pichpisey,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “Democratic governments must ensure the security of working journalists, even when they report critically on official policies and actions.”
A handful of Khmer-language daily newspapers had serialized RFA’s reports on the Global Witness report. The local language Sralanh Khmer newspaper was forced to stop publication of the reports after government officials threatened to close it down, according to media reports.

The management of the French-language Cambodge Soir newspaper sacked the news editor who oversaw publication of the Global Witness report’s allegations, according to news reports. The newspaper has now halted operations after the news staff went on strike over the dismissal.