Two journalists in Kampot were arrested as residents protested for the release of their family members amid allegations that police had detained a 4-year-old child.
According to a provincial police report from Tuesday, four suspects were arrested on Sunday in Chhuk district’s Trapeang Phlaing commune for violence against the owner of a property and incitement, calling it a red-handed crime.
The following day, residents protested outside the provincial hall demanding the four residents’ release.
A live video report by Los Seng News said the residents did not understand the arrests, and wanted the newly appointed provincial governor — who has held public forums vowing to solve people’s disputes — to step in.
“Please, provincial governor, find justice for me. … Please help us,” one interviewed woman said in the video amid rain. The woman, Ken Phon, alleged that the four taken to the provincial police headquarters were Dy Chroeun, Meas Khchai, Tuy Taing, and Taing’s 4-year-old son.
The Los Seng News reporter reiterates in the video that the residents were concerned for the child.
Licadho provincial coordinator Pen Vuthea said Tuesday night that he understood that a child was in custody alongside his mother, and they were being kept separate from the others.
Commune police chief Haem Kny would not answer repeated questions about whether there was a child in detention.
District and provincial police and the provincial governor could not be reached on Tuesday to clarify the claim.
The police report says two journalists from Los Seng News, Ing Thoeun, 27, and Say Sophea, 24, were arrested after they “came to report in front of the provincial administration, criticizing the competent local authorities without communicating with authorities to ask about the arrests of the four on November 7, causing people to misunderstand and become enemies of the competent local authorities.”
The two journalists are accused of incitement to disturb social security and malicious denunciation, the report says.
Los Seng, publisher of Los Seng News, said he had reached out to provincial governor Mao Thonin about the arrests but the governor had not been receptive.
“They are just reporters and covered the news,” Seng said. “They broadcast based on people’s interviews.”
“It is in [the interviewees’] hands, so they can make any accusation that they want to, but we need to look into live [broadcasts] — whether it is suitable for an accusation of incitement or not.”
He said the authorities could correct reporters’ information and should not arrest them like criminals.
“When any report is a crime, where is the freedom of the journalist? They could use the Press Law, but instead they use their power against the journalist,” Seng said. “Their action is to break the spirit of the journalist from daring to cover news in Kampot province.”
Los Seng said in July he was pressured to stop reporting on a contentious land dispute involving the new Phnom Penh International Airport, with the Kandal Stung district governor claiming the news outlet did not have permission to make live broadcasts about the dispute.