Calls for an investigation over journalist attacks in Cambodia | Asia Pacific

Calls for an investigation over journalist attacks in Cambodia

Calls for an investigation over journalist attacks in Cambodia

Updated 25 September 2013, 16:44 AEST

The US Embassy in Cambodia has called on the government to immediately investigate attacks against Cambodian and foreign journalists in Phnom Penh on Sunday night.

Journalists covering a protest in central Phnom Penh say they were deliberately attacked by police and men in plain clothes, brandishing slingshots and stun guns.

The violence comes amid political tensions, as the Opposition boycotts the opening of Parliament, claiming electoral fraud.

Reporter: Tom Maddocks

Speakers: Rick Valenzuela, President of the Overseas Press Club of Cambodia; David Chandler, Historian

MADDOCKS: Several foreign and Cambodian reporters were covering a peaceful demonstration by land rights activists when the electricity was cut to the area. Under the cover of darkness, they were set upon by police and men in plain clothes wearing surgical masks, brandishing slingshots and electric cattle prods. Captured on video, this was the moment photographer Rick Valenzuela was attacked.

VALENZUELA: As we were approaching, more of these guys in plain clothes with surgical masks came out of the shadows crackling their batons, yelling at us and telling us to leave. So we started to back pedal. I turned around and started to move and then one of the guys just started charging at me. I started to move faster towards where other colleagues were stationed while outside the perimeter and as I got to the end of the park, to the corner, uniformed guys who I believe were military police grabbed me and started to yank my camera off my neck and out of my hands. I struggled with them, identifying myself as a journalist. The camera got broken, my got a little bit bloodied. And the guys in the surgical masks caught up and then started shocking me.

MADDOCKS: While the reporters sustained mild injuries, the mother of a well-known land rights activist was hit in the eye with a marble-sized projectile, and a 73-year-old man was hit in the chest by a similar object. Rick Valenzuela is the President of the Overseas Press Club of Cambodia and he says the men in plain clothes were seemingly under the protection of military police, who watched on as the attack took place. David Chandler is a historian and a veteran observer of Cambodian affairs. He says the attack was probably orchestrated by the government.

CHANDLER: Well I think it was certainly organised by the government with approval at high levels. The fact that there were uniformed people involved means they were people there acting under orders. Un-uniformed people are probably also paid employees of the ruling government or the party or whatever. They're there to make it look like a popular repression, as well as a police one.

MADDOCKS: Military police spokesman Kheng Tito says it's difficult to tell who was responsible because it was dark at the time. The US Embassy in Phnom Penh says this attack is disturbing and they're calling on the Cambodian government to carry out an investigation immediately. They provided this statement:

US EMBASSY STATEMENT: The incident at Wat Phnom on Sunday, which included violent attacks on Cambodian citizens and human rights observers, is a disturbing development for the security situation in Phnom Penh. The US Embassy calls on the Royal Government of Cambodia to conduct an immediate, full, and transparent investigation into this incident and to bring to justice those responsible for this disturbing violence.

MADDOCKS: US Embassy Spokesperson John Simmons says the electoral process has been relatively peaceful but says the embassy is deeply concerned by these reports of violence and intimidation. As the country's leader Hun Sen pushes ahead with his new government, concerns about electoral fraud continue. The opposition CNRP boycotted the opening of parliament this week and says it will hold further protests around the country against what they say was a stolen election. Radio Australia contacted the Ministry of Interior but they declined to comment until they recieve further information.

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