A Phnom Penh Post reporter was removed from the entourage of a Malaysian diplomatic delegation on Thursday after his article on its efforts to assist 47 of its nationals held on gambling and fraud charges was deemed to be “spoiling negotiations”.
After reading Canadian national Husain Haider’s story on Thursday entitled Malaysian MP accused of influencing law, on the efforts being made to assist those detained, Ruzaimi Mohamad, the deputy chief of mission and charge d’affaires at the Malaysian embassy in Cambodia, told the reporter: “You are spoiling negotiations. It is unfixable, [The Post’s article] is out already. You can postpone telling the truth – keep it for some time.”
Foreign affairs officials in Kuala Lumpur were “p—ing all over him” over the report, he said, and asked Haider why he was “trying to spoil negotiations with their Cambodian counterparts”.
During a lunch stop, Ruzaimi approached Haider, telling him he was no longer welcome as part of the media accompanying them on the trip.
The delegation then drove off, leaving him stranded and to fend for himself without transport in the middle of Banteay Meanchey.
The Malaysian delegation made up of Fatimah Abdullah, Sarawak’s Minister of Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development, and the state’s Member of Parliament (MP) for Santubong, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, was the second to arrive in Cambodia in as many days.
The previous group consisted of Larry Sng, the MP for Julau in Sarawak state; Sunita Sedini, the mother of 21-year-old detainee Yusuf Islam bin Hali; and Chong Mei Lan, the sister of Chong Hun Khong, who is also being held in Banteay Meanchey provincial prison.
Earlier, the latest delegation issued an official itinerary to journalists that detailed a visit on Thursday to the jail holding the Malaysians, as the earlier group had done, but then proceeded to drive past the prison in Sisophon town.
The car ferrying them and local journalists moved on to Poipet town where the detained had been arrested.
Prepared to assist
The group toured two homes where the detainees were allegedly being held against their will.
The four-vehicle convoy was escorted by a pair of cars bearing Royal Cambodian Armed Forces number plates.
According to the delegation, it appeared the 47 detainees were the victims of human trafficking.
One of the homes had high walls obscuring the entrance and windows – said to keep the detainees from escaping after they had been trapped by a Chinese syndicate.
Salleh said the delegation respected Cambodian law but hoped the matter would not reach trial in the Kingdom.
“We are working closely with the Cambodian government on this issue and, as mentioned by our chief minister Abang Johari Tun Openg, we must act accordingly with the law,” Fatimah said.
She added that the Sarawak state government is prepared to assist the detainees, including paying for legal fees.
This echoed what Sng had said during his visit the previous day.
The Post’s article on Wednesday quoted Soeung Sen Karuna, the senior human rights investigator at Cambodian NGO Adhoc, criticising any potential decision to release the detained as it would imply a double standard for foreign nationals who break the law.
“No other government should influence Cambodian law,” Sen Karuna told The Post on Wednesday.
The Malaysian delegation is to fly out of Phnom Penh on Sunday after another round of negotiations in the capital with Cambodian authorities.
The 47 Malaysian detainees, 44 of whom are from Sarawak state in Borneo, were arrested on charges of fraud and running an online gambling racket.
They were allegedly monitoring online bets on illegal gambling sites with tablets while living in Poipet and using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology to scam people outside Cambodia.
One ruse was allegedly to pose as police officials to tell victims their relatives were in trouble and the only way to help was to send money.