Long Kunthea, Phuon Keoreaksmey and Thon Ratha, who work for the environmental website Mother Nature Cambodia, were arrested on 3 September and were placed in pre-trial detention three days later on a charge of “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest.”
Their crime was investigating the decision to fill in part of Lake Boeung Tamok. In a video that has since been rendered inaccessible, Mother Nature Cambodia reported that the defence ministry is going to fill in 300 hectares of the lake in order to build a military base, with disastrous consequences for the environment.
“In a country like Cambodia, where the government has applied itself to eliminating all independent media in the past three years, organizations such as Mother Nature Cambodia are now taking on the role of providing freely-reported and reliable information,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “The arrest of three of its investigators is the latest step in the Hun Sen administration’s progression from bad to worse, towards a society with totalitarian overtones. They must be freed at once.”
Two members of Mother Nature Cambodia, Dem Kundy and Hun Vannak, were already arrested on the same charge of inciting crime in September 2017, when they were doing a report on illegal trafficking in sand and were caught filming barges delivering vast amounts of newly extracted sand to an international cargo ship.
Mother Nature Cambodia emerged as an alternative media outlet combining journalism and activism in 2012, when it published the findings of its investigation into the large-scale logging of rare woods by the state and by powerful businessmen linked to the regime’s leadership – a business worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
To mark “Earth Overshoot Day” on 22 August, RSF published alarming statistics about journalists who cover environmental stories. At least ten have been killed worldwide in the past five years, while more than 50 press freedom violations linked to environment journalism have been tallied during the same period.
Cambodia is ranked 144th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.