On September 11, a Cambodian journalist named Hang Serei Odom was found dead in an abandoned vehicle. Missing since September 9, the reporter with the local Vorakchun Khmer Daily newspaper had suffered several axe blows to the head.
Why? In his most recent story, Odom had implicated the son of a military commander in northern Ratanakiri Province in the smuggling of illegal timber in military vehicles. For the crime of reporting on rampant illegal logging in Cambodia, Odom suffered the same fate as the trees.
Unfortunately, this kind of murder of environmental journalists is all too common. Exposing ongoing environmental plunder is an all too dangerous business. Journalists in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe all face routine intimidation and even death, according to press freedom groups. In fact, earlier this year Philippine journalist Gerardo Ortega was murdered by hitmen for reporting on the environmental impacts of mining in Palawan.
And the violence continues in Cambodia, where illegal logging is enriching a few to feed the luxury timber needs of distant consumers in China or the U.S. Journalist Ek Sokunthy of the Ta Prum newspaper was beaten with a pistol and wooden sticks by illegal loggers on September 25 even though, in Sokunthy’s own words as quoted by the Phnom Penh Post, “I didn’t know why they beat me because I always wrote stories favorable to authorities.”
This kind of violence, murder, and intimidation must stop wherever it takes place. All environmental journalists from around the world–all journalists really–have a stake in ensuring a free and fair press everywhere. The price of speaking truth to power should not be counted in lives or broken bones.
That’s why journalists affiliated with the U.S.-based Society of Environmental Journalists and the international Earth Journalism Network have started a petition to call Cambodian authorities attention to this grievous injustice. Wherever one journalist is threatened, all journalists must bear witness–and we will do so until tragedies such as the killing of Odom no longer take place.