ARACELI PALAFOX WRITES – There’s something fishy about the recent murder of journalist Suon Chon, and it’s not his series of reports on illegal fishing.

Earlier this month, The Phnom Penh Post reported the death of the forty-four year old Cambodian, who wrote for The Meakea Kampuchea Newspaper. It said Chon was confronted and beaten to death by local fishermen as he left his home in the Kampong Chang Province. Relatives, including his brother, were also beaten when they tried to save him. After throwing stones at Chon’s head and neck, the 10 suspects reportedly fled the scene, leaving Chon unconscious. Despite being rushed to the hospital, Chon died from his injuries.

Cambodian authorities have yet to identify a motive for the murder. Police are split on whether it was triggered by Chon’s previous reporting on illegal fishing, though the connection seems to us at least plausible. Sources cited by The Post say Chon had explicitly mentioned a few fishermen in his reports, revealing their illicit actions. Police have identified four suspects from the murder, but the other six who were involved remain unidentified.

In related news, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and the Committee to Protect Journalists have raised concerns about Cambodia’s freedom of expression and, most importantly, freedom of the press. Chon is the twenty-fifth journalist who has been murdered and whose murder has not been properly investigated.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has demanded Cambodian authorities bring justice and an end to “the cycle of impunity.”  The legal system of Cambodia has fostered a community of impunity where one can murder without repercussions. Further, this climate of intimidation that journalists face in Cambodia is leading to an increase in detrimental self-censorship. It’s the duty of the Cambodian Government and society to encourage a safe and respectable environment where freedom of expression isn’t merely a concept, but a practice.

Sadly, the six other suspects involved in the murder aren’t the only missing pieces of the puzzle. It has become exceedingly hard to procure Chon’s stories on illegal fishing. Further, almost all Cambodian sources that reported Chon’s murder say very little about what he was exposing in  his stories. None of the sources on Chon’s murder go into detail about the illegal activities by the fishermen.

Has the culture of impunity won over authorities or has fear silenced the voices of Cambodian Journalists?