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Two journalists detained, released two days later

(SEAPA/IFEX) - SEAPA and its partner, the Cambodian Association for Protection of Journalists (CAPJ), protest in the strongest terms the arrest and detention of two journalists by authorities in northeast Cambodia on 25 July 2004.

Irish citizen Kevin Doyle, editor-in-chief of the local English-language newspaper "The Cambodian Daily", and Sok Rathavisal, a local reporter for the United States funded Radio Free Asia, were arrested in Mondolkiri province, along with Pen Bunna, of the Cambodian human rights group ADHOC, and his interpreter.

The two journalists were following Pen Bunna, who was helping United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) personnel search for about 200 Christian Montagnards, hill tribe people who are fleeing religious repression in neighbouring Vietnam.

SEAPA and CAPJ believe the arrest of the two journalists was a gross violation of the universal human right to freedom of expression.

"Journalists should not be arrested and detained for trying to get the true story out to the public," the organisations said in a joint statement, which was faxed to the Cambodian government on 27 July.

The organisations went on to say, "We strongly urge the Cambodian authorities to stop any attempt to use unjust legal measures to curb press freedom [and to allow journalists to carry out] their duty as a social watchdog."

Cambodia's Penal Code allows for suspects to be detained for 48 hours before being sent to trial. Cambodian press groups have long called for the withdrawal of this detention clause, which can be invoked by the authorities at will to curb press freedom.

"Although the two journalists and the other two Cambodians were released on the morning of 27 July 2004 without charges, their arrest should not have gone unnoticed in the international community," the organisations said in their statement.

CAPJ sources said the two journalists arrived safely in nearby Ratanakiri province. They were expected to return to Phnom Penh on the morning of 28 July.

Sok Rathavisal was quoted as saying that an accusation that they were involved in human trafficking was false and slanderous. Foreign news agencies quoted Cambodian Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak as saying on 27 July that the four people were detained for "[undertaking activities] that were not their responsibility." Khieu Sopheak said it was not appropriate for them to be in the area.

On 26 July, Radio Free Asia stated that it believed the four individuals' arrest was intended to frighten Vietnamese asylum seekers away from Cambodia and prevent the media from reporting on the plight of the Montagnards, who were United States allies in the Vietnam War.

"The Cambodia Daily" has been reporting aggressively on the plight of the Montagnards. Bowing to international pressure, the Cambodian government, which forged special ties with their Vietnamese counterpart during the Vietnam War, recently began allowing the Montagnards to enter Cambodia.

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