The assault of a Cambodian reporter at an early morning motor vehicle crash by a police deputy inspector has seen media freedom and abuse of power in Cambodia thrust into the spotlight at the worst possible time.
Over the next three months a European Union (EU) delegation will prepare its recommendation on whether Cambodia should be stripped of lucrative tariff exemptions under the so-called Everything But Arms (EBA) trade scheme, due to concerns over a shrinking democratic space and human rights.
The report will be supplied to the European Parliament who will make its decision public next February, with a six month moratorium before the decision comes into effect.
In the video above a reporter from a Cambodian Facebook television news service has responded to what appears to be a relatively minor car crash.
The vehicle has already been ‘chalked’ and a recovery truck with a mobile crane is preparing to remove it, the only damage appearing to be a tireless front wheel with a shattered rim.
By Cambodian standards where some 1,761 people were killed and 4,770 injured in road crashes last year this is a fairly mundane incident and pretty boring television.
As the reporters go about their work a person in civilian clothes and with no visible identification, but wearing a helmet with a Cambodian police emblem and the word ‘police’ on the back, orders the reporters to stop filming and to go away. The reporters politely explain who they are and continue doing their work.
Not to be challenged, albeit at what is one of the most boring motor vehicle accidents imaginable, the person then attempts to snatch the video recording device from the reporter’s hand, slapping him in the process.
The man, subsequently identified in local media as Lieutenant Colonel Ek Saron, deputy traffic police chief at the Chhbar Ampov police station, then pursues the reporter, despite the vehicle having been removed from the scene.
A series of violent scuffles then follows as the police officer continues to try and take the video recording device, threatening to arrest the reporter. Alarmingly, among those present and seen in the video is Mr Saron’s boss, Colonel lm Saravut, Chhbar Ampov police station’s Inspector General.
Despite reporters protesting loudly and complaining that they can smell alcohol on Mr Saron’s breath he is allowed to drive away from the scene on his motorbike, forcing his vehicle through the reporters attempting to block his departure.
The world is watching
While appearing incensed in the video, Sovann Rithy, one of TVFB News’ senior on-camera reporters, said he had nothing to say when contacted by AEC News Today, referring us to his Facebook reports and video.
Alarmed at the confrontation, Nguon Teang Pa, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM), said that the “assault proves that journalists working in Cambodia are at great danger, particularly from harassment, intimidation, or violent acts by government officers associated with powerful or corrupt high-ranking officials.
“It also highlights the weakness of law enforcement and impunity in Cambodia”, Mr Pa said, “with such perpetrator not required to face any administrative or legal actions.
Describing it as further proof that “freedom of press and freedom of expression in Cambodia are under serious threat”, Mr Pa said “the same concerns are held by the international community, with the EU and US considering their actions concerning EBA and GSP respectively against Cambodia.
In April Meas Sophorn, a spokesman for the Ministry of Information (MoI), dismissed Reporters Without Borders 2018 Press Freedom Index report which ranked Cambodia 143 out of 180 in 2018, saying Cambodia was a “democratic country that respects press freedom”.
Requests by AEC News Today to the MoI asking whether it intended to take any action in this matter were not immediately responded to. Colonel Saravut and Lieutenant Colonel Ek Saron could not be contacted.
Reporters Without Borders has been able to confirm the deaths of 14 journalists in Cambodia since 1992.
Feature video TVFB News
Raksmey Khoem in Phnom Penh contributed to this story
- Reporters Without Borders Says Cambodia Media Freedoms Plummeted in 2018 (VOA)
- Countdown begins: EU begins process to strip Cambodia of trade preferences (AEC News Today)