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Cambodian authorities detained five journalists and four activists after addressing deforestation in a vast Phnom Tamao forest, stated the civil society organisation, Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO).

Khmer Thavrak activists (from left), Sokun Tola, Svay Samnang, who was not detained, Chhoeun Daravy, Chhem Sreykea and Hun Vannak, outside the Bati district police station in Takeo province on 16 August 2022. (Source: LICADHO)

On 16 August, authorities detained five journalists from independent news outlet, Voice of Democracy (VOD) and four activists from social justice group Khmer Thavrak after they were arrested in Phnom Tamao forest on Tuesday morning. They were released just after 18.00 this evening after authorities required them to sign a contract.

Officers from the prime minister’s bodyguard unit arrested the journalists and Khmer Thavrak activists, including Sokun Tola, Chhem Sreykea, Chhoeun Daravy and Hun Vannak, and sent the nine to the Bati district police station in Takeo province for questioning for several hours.

The Khmer Thavrak activists were detained after one group member was live-streaming on Facebook from Phnom Tamao this morning, and the group had submitted a petition about the forest to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, another group member said. Authorities have reportedly started marking forest land with poles, drawing questions from local residents and triggering a visit by Khmer Thavrak.

The journalists detained on Tuesday were reporting on the aftermath of recent forest clearing. Bodyguard unit officers had confiscated the journalists’ equipment.

The detentions come just days after the Phnom Tamao forest underwent massive deforestation, losing up to 500 hectares of forest at the roughly 2,000-hectare site in about one week. Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the forest to be replanted on 7 August, cancelling concessions given by his government to several businessmen, including Leng Navatra and Khun Sea. The reversal came after a series of VOD articles, drone footage of the rapid deforestation and public outrage on social media over the forest’s destruction.

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