2 May 2012

Environmental activist killed during confrontation with military police

Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered an investigation into the death of a prominent anti-logging activist during a confrontation with military police.

Chut Wutty was shot dead on 26 April at a military checkpoint as he was driving with journalists investigating illegal logging, report the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), ARTICLE 19 and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

According to news reports, Wutty, director of the Natural Resources Protection Group, had been taking photographs in a protected forest in Koh Kong province, and refused to stop and hand over a memory card at a military checkpoint. Both Wutty and a police officer were killed, but there are conflicting reports about what exactly happened.

The two journalists accompanying Wutty were apprehended by military police and were safely released on 27 April.

The Prime Minister's order, issued on Monday, followed calls by CCHR and other rights groups for an investigation, reports "The New York Times". CCHR president, Ou Virak, said that his organisation had strong leads on which company asked the military police to stop him.

According to the IFEX members, Wutty had been working to stop illegal deforestation in Cambodia since the 1990s, and was particularly active in the Prey Lang forest. In 2011 he played a major role in supporting the Prey Lang network, a grassroots community movement, and was threatened with arrest and criminal charges as a result, says CCHR.

According to news reports, Wutty had campaigned against the government's granting of economic land concessions to dozens of companies to develop land in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. He was particularly critical of Cambodia's military police, who are often deployed to protect private business interests.

"The cost of activism, free speech and journalistic work has risen in Cambodia, and Chut Wutty tragically paid with his life. This sends a chilling message across the entire country that to be outspoken on rights issues is to place a target upon one's chest," said ARTICLE 19 executive director Agnes Callamard.

In a January 2012 interview with ARTICLE 19, he acknowledged the dangers associated with his work, but made clear his devotion to the environment in Cambodia. "I will never flee from Cambodia. If one activist leaves the country, then another will go, and then another. You cannot love your country and flee," he said.

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