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Cambodian journalists accused of trying to extort money

Reporters chased by gang of club-wielding men after trying to photograph truck full of suspected illegal timber.

16.10.2014 - Update : 16.10.2014
Cambodian journalists accused of trying to extort money

By Kate Bartlett

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia

In yet another sign that journalists who investigate Cambodia's rampant illegal logging do so at their peril, two reporters in northern Preah Vihear province were chased by a gang of club-wielding men after trying to photograph a truck full of timber, local media reported Thursday.

The incident comes just days after the murder of Taing Try, a journalist who had been investigating luxury timber smuggling in Cambodia's rural northeast.

A soldier and two police officers have since been arrested for the killing and are said to have confessed.

However, as is often the case with illegal logging, the issue can get murky.

Police have accused the journalists of trying to extort money from the truck's driver - who they say was not transporting anything illegal - by threatening to print a story about him.

"We received information from our officials that the two journalists stopped the truck and asked for $300, but that the driver refused and an argument started when the reporters tried to take a photograph of the truck," Si Kiri, provincial police chief, told the Daily.

The journalists involved, Sao Vandy and Buth Siken, deny they did anything unethical.

"We just tried to take photographs of the wood and we did not ask for money, but two people got out of the truck and screamed at us, claiming that the wood belonged to an official working for the Anti-Corruption Unit," the paper quoted Vandy as saying.

The journalists claim they were then set upon by six men brandishing sticks and metal pipes and were chased into a field, where they hid until police arrived at the scene. 

Cambodia's forests have been much depleted by illegal logging as luxury rosewood can sell for thousands of dollars and there is a large market for the timber in China.

It is not the first time journalists writing on the involvement of officials in the illegal logging of timber have faced persecution – many have been threatened and some even killed.

In 2012, a journalist named Hang Serei Oudom was found dead and stuffed in the boot of his car after reporting on military involvement in illegal logging.

Ten journalists have been murdered since 1993, with all cases still unsolved.

However, some journalists also frequently try to extort money from officials caught trafficking wood.

As Freedom House noted in its 2013 report on press freedom in Cambodia: "Journalists' pay is very low, and accepting bribes to run or withhold particular stories is not uncommon."

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