The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) is concerned that Cambodian authorities are not investigating an apparent traffic accident that has left a journalist of Radio Free Asia, Sok Serei, in critical condition.
Information from the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and Alliance of Freedom of Expression in Cambodia (AFEC) suggests that the “accident” could be a premeditated hit-and-run over Sok’s work in the past months as the maverick reporter had been highlighting civil society’s criticisms of the government and exposing corruption. One case involved a high-ranking official in the Ministry of Rural Development.
On 14 December 2006, at around 4:45 p.m. (local time), Sok was riding his motorcycle after picking up his eight-year-old daughter from school when his motorcycle was knocked down by a car door opening. Sok sustained serious head injury from the fall, while his daughter suffered a lesser but still significant head injury.
According to witnesses, the two men in the car – a Toyota pick-up truck bearing a licence plate of Koh Kong Province – showed no concern for Sok or his daughter and drove off as soon as the crowd that had gathered cleared the way. No witness knew the two men.
The apparent accident left Sok in a coma for one day. His condition has improved but is still critical, while his daughter is now stabilised.
Witnesses noted down the number of the licence plate, which is known to AFEC.
A coalition of 28 non-governmental organisations, labour unions and other associations working to promote freedom of expression in Cambodia, AFEC has called on the government to investigate the suspicious accident.
However, police are reluctant to investigate the case, treating it as an accident.
AFEC said there were many ways such an accident could be staged. It also discounted as “almost zero” the probability of an accident involving a vehicle from Koh Kong – which borders Thailand in the southwest, far away from Phnom Penh, and has extremely poor road conditions at this time of the year – striking one of the “few brave independent radio reporters” of influence.