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Freedom House: Cambodia “not free”

By: Norbert Klein Posted: January-17-2011 in
Norbert Klein

The Mirror had reported, on Tuesday, that Boeng Kak Lake Area Residents Call off Futile “Freedom Park” Demonstration. The Cambodia Daily reported in its 15-16 January 2011 edition the following sequel to the Boeng Kak tragedy.

Police Attack Journalists, Take Camera at Lake

by Chhorn Chansy

A group of Phnom Penh municipal police at a Boeng Kak eviction site yesterday attacked a photojournalist, confiscated his camera and forced him to delete images form it, the journalist and residents said.

Sovan Philong, of the English-language Phnom Penh Post, said yesterday that he and his brother, a photography student, were taking photos of 19 homes being demolished by work crews for the development of the lake area when they were confronted by municipal intervention police overseeing the demolition.

“About four to five police officers with shields and electric batons came to confiscate my camera, which caused a scuffle. Some of them pushed me and grabbed me by the collar to take the camera,” said Mr. Philong, who sustained a minor injury on his head.

He said police also took his brother’s camera and returned both cameras more than an hour later, only after he agreed to delete all photos… He said the photos would have shown police pushing residents.

“They probably were scared of photos showing them pointing guns at villagers, but I didn’t get shots of that,” he said, adding that his press identification card was clearly on display when he was attacked.

Residents of the Boeng Kak lake area yesterday decried the deletion of photos, which they said would expose how police intimidated and pushed villagers, who had only a day’s notice about demolition and eviction.

“We regret that all the photos were deleted… He took a lot of good pictures of the cruelty and how they demolished our house and the confrontation of police and villagers,” said Vorn Soklang.

Seng Davuth, another resident, said police treated the photographer like a criminal.

“The shouted ‘Catch him, catch him!’ The action was brutal. It seemed like they were arresting robbers,” he said…

Lake resident Heng Hoeun said he and his neighbors had rejected offers by Shukaku Inc, the developer that has a 99-year lease on the land around the lake, of $1,000 and 2 million Riel [approx. US$485] for their locations, wanting instead $8,000 and 2 million Riel. A notice Thursday from Daun Penh district authorities gave villagers only a day to move.

“We did not agree to move but they forcibly moved us,” he said.

Municipal police chief Touch Naruth, Ministry of Interior spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, and National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith could not be reached for comment.

Sok Phal, the deputy chief of the National Police, said he was unaware of the incident, and declined comment.

Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies, said the incident was a violation of press freedom and called for an investigation and the punishment of the officers involved.

“It is against the law and it is against the position of the government to harass journalists who are doing their professional jobs, whether to report on the story or take photographs,” he said.

The government also must educate police about press rights to prevent further incidents, he said.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said he had suggested to Mr. Philong that he file a lawsuit against police and called their action “unacceptable and in violation of press freedom.”

“The police have no right to confiscate cameras. Only the court has. And unless there is a clear sign of ‘No Photo Allowed,’” he wrote in an e-mail.

Pen Samitthy, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, said the incident took place in a public place where people should be free to take photos. “Such an event should never happen again,” he said.

[Quoted by permission]

On 13 January 2011, the US based organization Freedom House – “Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports the expansion of freedom around the world. Freedom House supports democratic change, monitors freedom, and advocates for democracy and human rights” – published its annual report. The report divides 208 countries and territories into 3 groups: “free,” “partially free,” and “not free.” Freedom House was established in 1941, during Second World War. Since 1972, such annual reports were released – Cambodia has always been put in the Freedom House reports into the “not free” group. All Freedom in the World data and reports are available on the Freedom House website, the Cambodia section for 2010 can be seen here (the detailed 2011 data, for all countries, are not yet on the web site).

Freedom in the World 2011: The Authoritarian Challenge to Democracy

Global freedom suffered its fifth consecutive year of decline in 2010, according to Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House’s annual assessment of political rights and civil liberties around the world. This represents the longest continuous period of decline in the nearly 40-year history of the survey. The year featured drops in the number of Free countries and the number of electoral democracies, as well as an overall deterioration for freedom in the Middle East and North Africa region.

A total of 25 countries showed significant declines in 2010, more than double the 11 countries exhibiting noteworthy gains. The number of countries designated as Free fell from 89 to 87, and the number of electoral democracies dropped to 115, far below the 2005 figure of 123. In addition, authoritarian regimes like those in China, Egypt, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela continued to step up repressive measures with little significant resistance from the democratic world.

The spokesperson of the Council of Ministers rejected the conclusions of the Freedom House report, “The report reflects that they want to attack the government,” accusing the group of not conducting primary research. “They just sit in Washington and read the wrong reports.”

When one takes the time to read through the detailed reports, it is obvious that they are not only based on sitting at some desks. Many people might even have looked at the pictures which a local journalist took, if the police had not taken away the camera and made the journalist and his brother erase the pictures.

A number of the representatives of the authorities were not seen to have taken primary evidence, they are said to have been neither at the futile week long demonstration at the “Freedom Park,” nor when 19 homes of citizens were destroyed and the people who used to live there were forcefully evicted, after only one day’s notice before this action.

At the end of The Mirror’s Tuesday report I had pointed to the fact that some of the victims called fellow citizens of Phnom Penh to show self-interested solidarity: “Today, Shukaku and the Chinese company abused my home and that of others right in our community. Tomorrow, other companies will encroach on your homes in your community.”

There is hardly a signs that there is such a movement of broad solidarity developing in town.

Norbert KLEIN

This article was first published by The Mirror, Vol. 15, No. 699 – Saturday, 15.1.2011
Have a look at the last editorial - you can access it directly from the main page of The Mirror.

Norbert Klein is the Editor of The Mirror – The Mirror is a daily comprehensive summary and translation of the major Khmer language press - More about The Mirror

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