More than 50 journalists from several provinces visited the Information Ministry yesterday to demand intervention in a case that has seen four journalists in Ratanakkiri province charged with extortion, claiming the group was set up over their illegal logging investigations.
The four journalists, Yorn Tith, a reporter with Khmer Youth Media; Peng Sothearak, a reporter working with CPN TV Online; Mey Menghuy, a reporter working with Phnom Penh News newspaper; and Chan Nara, a reporter with TNM TV Online, were charged with extortion on Saturday.
Kim Reaksmey, commander of the Ratanakkiri Provincial Military Police, said on Sunday that the group allegedly stopped a van carrying timber in Labansek commune and took photos of its haul on June 14, demanding the driver pay them each $500 per month to not publish the pictures.
Mr Reaksmey did not name the driver of the van or reveal whom he was working for, or if an investigation was opened into illegal logging.
Moeun Vanna, editor of TNM TV Online, said yesterday that he believes the group of four journalists was set up as a way to deter its illegal logging investigations, which were leading the journalists to believe a famous timber trafficker was colluding with military police.
“On that day, there was a van laden with wood pretending to stop to change a tire and a phone call was made to one of the reporters,” he said. “When the reporters went to the scene, the driver threw money into their car and then the provincial military police appeared and abruptly arrested them.
“This shows that it was a set up to arrest them for their roles in reporting on forestry crimes of a powerful trafficker named Hor Kivay and the suspected collusion with the police.”
Mr Vanna said that the wood discovered in the van was usually used for the farming of dragon fruit, which is not popularly grown in the province.
Attempts to reach Mr Kivay were not successful.
Mr Reaksmey said yesterday the four journalists confessed to their crimes, so claims of a set up are moot.
“When we questioned them at the headquarters, they confessed to the crime of extorting the money as a monthly payment,” he said. “They had been doing this kind of extortion for four to five years already.”
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith told the group of assembled journalists at his ministry yesterday that he would write a letter to the Justice Ministry asking it to find a “legal solution” for the accused.