Hem Choun, a reporter with the Khmer-language newspaper Samrek Yutethor, was arrested by military police while reporting on the forced eviction of land squatters by military police from Sambok Chap village on the outskirts of the capital, Phnom Penh.
He was arrested along with three other villagers for their alleged role in leading a violent protest on May 31 against a private security company that had been hired to secure the land. That day, protestors dismantled metal fences erected around the village and burned down the village chief’s empty house.
Choun’s lawyer said that he covered the riot as a reporter and did not participate in the melee. The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), a rights advocacy group that has provided legal counsel to the jailed journalist, told CPJ that police arrested Choun without a proper warrant and that they had refused to recognize him as a practicing journalist.
On June 8, Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigation Judge Ke Sokhan charged Choun under Article 52 of the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia criminal law, which relates to wrongful damage of property. He was convicted on November 30, 2006, and sentenced to two years in prison.
Choun was being held in crowded conditions at Phnom Penh’s notorious Prey Sar Prison. According to CCHR, Choun developed respiratory complications during his detention, and prison authorities on at least one occasion denied him outside medical treatment.