New York, July 14, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the murder of journalist Khem Sambo and calls upon Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to immediately launch an independent investigation into the killing. CPJ is concerned that Sambo may have been targeted in reprisal for his reporting on government corruption.
A journalist with the opposition-aligned Khmer-language daily paper Moneaseka Khmer, Sambo was shot twice while riding his motorcycle with his 21-year-old son on July 11 in the capital of Phnom Penh, according to international and local news reports. He died later in the hospital. His son was also shot and killed, the reports say.
The gunmen were also riding on a motorcycle and sped away after the shooting, news reports say. Cambodian police officials said on Sunday that they had not yet identified a motive or any suspects in the murder, which occurred during the run-up to general elections on July 27.
“We call in the strongest terms for the government to work to bring Khem Sambo’s killers to justice,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program director. “The killing of journalists unfortunately harks to Cambodia’s violent past. A lack of justice would be inconsistent with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s recent stated commitment to protect and uphold press freedom.”
Moneaseka Khmer is affiliated with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, and Sambo was among the publication’s most hard-hitting reporters. Content analysis of Sambo’s reporting in the weeks before his murder compiled by the Cambodian League for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights and reviewed by CPJ reveals a steady stream of critical reporting on Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodia’s People’s Party.
His most recent reports, written either under the pennames Srey Ka or Den Sorin, touched on allegations of government corruption, internal rifts inside the ruling party, and questions about the distribution of benefits from recent rapid Chinese investment in the country. The Moneakseka Khmer is one of only a handful of consistently critical publications in Cambodia; the broadcast media all report unswervingly in the ruling party’s favor.
On June 8, Moneakseka Khmer’s editor-in-chief, Dam Sith, was arrested and detained on defamation and disinformation charges filed by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong for a story published in the newspaper quoting a speech by opposition politician Sam Rainsy that was highly critical of several government officials. He was discharged without bail on June 15 after Hun Sen requested his temporary release while the trial was still pending, according to news reports that quoted the journalist’s lawyer.
Sith called the attack on Sambo “the gravest threat” to the publication, according to The Associated Press.