Suon Chan, 44, was attacked by a group of fishermen while he was outside his home in Peam Chhkork commune, Cholkiri district of central Kampong Chhnang province. The assailants beat him repeatedly with stones and sticks, and attacked two of his relatives who came to his aid, reports said. The journalist died while headed to a local hospital, according to the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists.
Duong Vuthy, police chief of Peam Chhkork commune, told the Phnom Penh Post that he suspected Suon Chan’s killing was motivated by his reports on illegal fishing. Shortly before his death, Suon Chan, a reporter for the Khmer-language newspaper Meakea Kampuchea, had reported on illegal fishing activities in Peam Chhkork commune, which led to a police crackdown on the activities, news accounts said.
But Kong Chanmony, the provincial coordinator for the national Cambodian League for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, said that after investigating the case and interviewing witnesses, he believed Suon Chan’s murder was likely not related to his work as a journalist, The Cambodia Daily reported. Chanmony said he concluded from his investigation that Suon Chan and the suspects were intoxicated and had engaged in a confrontation that likely had nothing to do with the question of illegal fishing.
Morm Thon, Cholkiri district’s police chief, told Radio Free Asia at the time that an initial investigation indicated that Suon Chon’s murder was not related to his reports on illegal fishing.
Provincial police chief Ath Khem said the attack followed a verbal dispute between Suon Chan and the suspects, but said police still did not know the specifics of the argument.
Five suspects, Yim Nak, Yim Non, Yong Sie Leng, Ra Rom and Sang Sieng Eang, were later charged with premeditated murder, according to news reports. On November 11, 2015, a provincial court sentenced the five in absentia to 13 years in prison and ordered them to pay fines, the reports said.
An appeal court upheld their verdicts in 2017. Ra Rom and Sieng Eang appealed their convictions to the Supreme Court, where their defense lawyer argued that the altercation was not premeditated and pleaded for more lenient sentences. A verdict was expected to be handed down in August 2019, according to news reports.