Reporters Without Borders today condemned anonymous death threats made against Lem Piseth, of Radio Free Asia in Cambodia after he reported on damage from deforestation in the Kompong Thom province in the centre of the country.The authorities had banned all national media from carrying extracts from a report on deforestation in the area, recently released by the NGO, Global Witness. The journalist has now fled the country to take refuge in Thailand.
Piseth, aged 38, was on his way to Kampong Speu in southern Cambodia on 16 June when he received a call on his mobile phone from a number he did not recognise. When he replied a man's voice said to him:
- “Is that you Lem Piseth?
- Yes. Who are you?
- You are insolent. Do you want to die?
- Why are you insulting me like this?
- Because of the story about the forest and know this, there will not enough land to bury you in.”
The unknown caller then hung up and when the reporter tried to cal the number back, he found himself through to a call centre.
“It is obvious that the Global Witness report on the over-exploitation of the Cambodian forests is upsetting some people,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “Since this report was released, all media have been subjected to unjustified state censorship. We urge the authorities to identify those who made these threats so that Lem Piseth can safely resume his work”.
Following publication of the Global Witness report, Piseth wrote four articles on the damage resulting from deforestation in Kompong Thom province, particularly in the Tumring region, where it has been particularly disastrous. While reporting in Kompong Thom, the reporter said he was followed by police and the military. He had to leave the hotel room he was staying in for several nights, at the request of the owners who gave him no explanation.
Information Minister, Khieu Kanharith, said on 8 June that “the media has had a week to put out news (about the report) and that is more than enough. Newspapers can refer to it but not reproduce it. If this ban is not respected, we will take the necessary legal steps”.
Radio Free Asia is among several media which have continued to talk about the report. A man went to the radio's broadcasting centre and asked the journalists to stop mentioning the report.
Soren Seelow, a journalist on Cambodge Soir was sacked without notice on 10 June for having mentioned the Global Witness report but there were hopes that a strike by staff at the paper could lead to the case being resolved.