Sok Ratha, 2006 winner
Sok Ratha began working for Radio Free Asia during Cambodia’s 2003 national elections, as a temporary stringer based in Rattanakiri. He subsequently discovered Montagnard refugees—ethnic minority people from Vietnam—hiding in the thick jungle forests of Rattanakiri and the neighboring province of Mondulkiri. He was the first reporter to expose their plight, eventually drawing intervention by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Sok Ratha returned repeatedly to the malaria-infested jungles where the Montagnards had made camp, documenting their plight in photos and recorded interviews that made their existence impossible even for the Cambodian authorities to deny or ignore. A year after he began reporting on the Montagnards, Sok Ratha was arrested along with another reporter as they documented the travels of a new group of 17 Montagnards attempting to reach safe haven.
In 2005, Sok Ratha turned to covering other pressing issues in Rattanakiri such as illegal logging, judicial corruption, and land grabs. Last September, as he attempted to report on illegal logging involving military authorities, he was run down by a truck driven by a military official.
He was dragged 100 meters but escaped serious injury. He has declined several offers from RFA to relocate in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, choosing to remain with his family in Rattanakiri.
“In this often less-than-brave new world of contemporary media, Sok Ratha is a true investigative reporter—one of those, in the words of British journalist John Pilger, ‘who push back screens, peer behind facades, lift rocks… the men and women whose disrespect for authoritarianism has allowed them to alert their readers to vital hidden truths,’” Liu said.