PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA - With at least four Cambodians killed in recent years trying to uncover environmental crimes, the country ranks as the “deadliest” place in the world in which to conduct such reporting, a new report said.
“Hostile Climate for Environmental Journalists,” compiled by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, named Cambodia and India as the two “deadliest" countries for journalists covering environmental issues.
“Many environment journalists have paid a high price,” the report said, citing 10 slayings of environment reporters worldwide since 2010.
RSF said four of the killings took place in Cambodia, where the group alleged “disgraceful impunity” for perpetrators.
“RSF has urged the authorities in both [Cambodia and India] to conduct serious and transparent investigation into these barbaric murders of journalists with aims to bring those responsible to justice,” the report said.
The cases in Cambodia began with the gunning down of prominent environmentalist Chut Wutty in 2012 while he was guiding two reporters from the English-language Cambodia Daily near a protected area of Koh Kong province.
“The Cambodian judicial authorities closed the Chut Wutty murder case in 2012 after botching the investigation,” the report said. A court ruled that Chut Wutty’s death was an “accidental killing.” Rights groups said the investigation and court case both lacked credibility.
Also in 2012, Virakchun newspaper reporter Hang Serei Udom was found hacked to death in the trunk of his car in Ratanakiri province. In 2014, logging-focused reporter Taing Try was killed in Kratie province, and in the same year, reporter Suon Chan was killed while covering illegal fishing in Kompong Chhnang province.
3 other countries
Besides Cambodia and India, RSF's report highlighted the risky conditions in the Philippines, Indonesia and Russia for reporting about the environment and climate change.
Ouk Kimseng, undersecretary of state at Cambodia’s Information Ministry, acknowledged that journalists working in some remote areas faced a threat to their security when covering environmental issues.
But he said it was the responsibility of journalists to be careful when they report in dangerous areas. "Regarding their security concerns, we can only suggest they [journalists] think twice or inform the authorities on the ground,” he said.
He also suggested the report’s authors should have done more research within Cambodia.
“In their further reports on the topic, I think [RSF] should come to the ground, meet those journalists and compile the information like that,” Ouk Kimseng said, “so we can explore on how confrontational they are when going to the fields.”
Reports of journalists killed in remote parts of the country have often been accompanied by allegations that reporters in these areas were acting unethically. Particularly in the northeast of the country, where illegal logging is rife, journalists have been accused of demanding bribes from illegal loggers and companies in order to suppress their own reporting on forestry crimes.
Sek Borisoth, head of the Cambodian Journalists Council for Ethics, said reporters should not have to work under the threat of violence, regardless of these ethical concerns. The “hostile climate” faced by environmental reporters is damaging to Cambodian society as a whole, he argued.
“No matter how unethical they are in some cases, environment journalists do not deserve in any way to face killing or violence,” Borisoth said. “Journalists must always be protected and safe.”
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.