New York, April 26, 2012–Cambodian authorities should thoroughly investigate a violent confrontation that led to the deaths of a police officer and an activist who was taking two journalists to a logging site said to be illegal, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Chut Wutty, the president of the Phnom Penh-based Natural Resource Conservation Group, was taking Phorn Bopha and Olesia Plokhii, journalists for the local newspaper The Cambodia Daily, to a site in a protected forest in Koh Kong province where logging was taking place, according to news reports. Cambodian journalists have been threatened in the past for reporting on alleged government complicity in illegal logging, according to CPJ research.
When the group arrived at a military checkpoint, the police demanded Wutty’s camera memory card, which contained images of logging said to be illegal, news reports said. “Chut Wutty refused to hand over a memory card with photos taken in the nearby forest by him and the journalists,” The Associated Press reported, citing a local human rights group.
During the confrontation, police began firing at the men, and Wutty was killed, news reports said. While The Phnom Penh Post said the police officer was killed by a bullet ricocheting from Wutty’s vehicle, other news accounts reported that Wutty had returned fire. The journalists, who were unhurt, were being questioned by the police about the incident, the Post reported.
The Post cited a military spokesperson as saying that MDS Import Export, a local logging company, had asked the police to prevent the group from photographing the area. International environmental groups say the government and the military are frequently complicit in the rampant illegal logging in Cambodia, according to the AP.
“We’re concerned by the death of Chut Wutty, who was assisting journalists reporting on a highly sensitive topic in Cambodia,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Authorities must immediately launch a full investigation of the shooting incident.”