Uniformed police and men in surgical masks attacked seven journalists while they were covering a protest in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.
The protest near a Buddhist shrine was about government evictions of an entire neighborhood to make room for condominium and commercial developments. The streetlights went off in the public area as the protestors spelled out “Peace” in lit candles.
Journalists from Agence France-Presse, The Cambodia Daily, International Herald Tribune, The Phnom Penh Post, and Voice of America were reporting on the event and taking photos of the display when a group of assailants attacked them with slingshots, electric prods, and batons under the cover of darkness.
Rick Valenzuela, president of the Overseas Press Club of Cambodia, said uniformed police beat him, took his camera, and broke it.
The protestors demonstrating outside the Buddhist shrine were members of the The Cambodian National Rescue Party. CNRP members had been protesting against the ruling Cambodia People’s Party for weeks, because they believe the country’s most recent election was rigged.
David Chandler, a historian who’s written several books on Cambodia, said the attack was likely orchestrated by the government. “The fact that there were uniformed people involved means there were people there acting under orders,” he said. “Un-uniformed people are probably also paid employees of the ruling government...they're there to make it look like a popular repression, as well as a police one.”
The reporters sustained only minor injuries. The U.S. embassy and the Committee to Protect Journalists have called on the Royal Government of Cambodia to investigate the attack.
“This wanton attack on journalists, in full view of police officials, underscores once again the Cambodian government's disdain for the rights of the press," said CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative, Shawn Crispin. "We call on Prime Minister Hun Sen to break the cycle of violence against journalists and ensure that those involved in the attack are prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
CPJ said that nine journalists have been killed in Cambodia since 1992; six of those killed were political reporters, and no one has been charged for their murders.