Authorities in eastern Cambodia’s Kratie province have arrested a local reporter who had exposed illegal timber smuggling in the area, according to police and an anti-logging activist.
Taing Try, a reporter affiliated with the Khmer Democratic Journalists’ Association, was taken into custody on Friday, police in Kratie’s Snoul district told RFA on Sunday.
Police refused to discuss the charges against him, saying only that local villagers had reported Taing Try for illegal activities to the district prosecutor.
But Ing Savoeun, a representative from the local Anti-logging and Wildlife Protection group, said he believes Taing Try is being held in connection with timber-smuggling activities that the journalist himself had reported to local authorities.
“I see this scenario as very unjust,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
He said that Taing Try had uncovered illegal smuggling involving a well-connected businessman who had conducted crimes in Snoul’s Ksem township without fear of local authorities.
“Taing Try had seen the illegal transportation [of timber],” he said.
“The owner of the vehicle was Eourn … He has been doing this business for two to three years and has never paid anyone a single riel because of how powerful his backers are.”
Reporters from the Meattophum (Homeland) newspaper who know Taing Try also said they believe he was arrested because he had witnessed illegal timber smuggling and reported it to the authorities, but they did not elaborate.
Taing Try had contributed articles to the paper.
Ing Savoeun said that on Friday, after Taing Try had reported information on timber smuggling in the Ksem township’s Sompoch village to district authorities, police came to the area and arrested the journalist along with others suspected of involvement in illegal timber smuggling.
The police, who were accompanied by the head of the local forestry department and the head of Ksem township, brought them to the local district police station, he said.
Authorities soon released the other detainees after impounding a car that belonged to one of them, but kept Taing Try in custody, he said.
District police said Taing Try was transferred to the provincial court on Saturday.
District Prosecutor Chat Soraksmeay, who issued the warrant for Taing Try’s arrest, could not be reached for comment.
Taing Try’s arrest follows a pair of murders this year tied to exposing illegal logging in Cambodia’s forests, where deforestation and mining in recent years have taken a heavy toll on the environment.
In April, environmental activist Chut Wutty, who had organized communities to protect forests, was gunned down while investigating illegal logging operations in Koh Kong province.
Court proceedings on his case, the highest-profile death of a Cambodian activist in years, ended in October after judges dropped an investigation into the murder on the grounds that the suspected killer was already dead.
In September, an investigative journalist who had exposed illegal logging and forest crimes involving the local elite was found dead in his car in Rattanakiri province.
In his most recent article before his death, Hang Serei Oudom, a reporter for the local Virakchum Khmer Daily, had accused the son of a district military police chief of smuggling logs and extorting money from people who were legally transporting wood.
Reported by Vichey Ananndh for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun and Poly Sam. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.