Highly respected Cambodian journalist Saing Soenthrith, known for his pulse for hard-hitting stories, succumbed to kidney failure on the night of January 5, in Phnom Penh. He was 54.
Soenthrith personified a constant search for truth and justice. As a journalist for the now-defunct The Cambodia Daily, he spent more than 20 years reporting on some of the most pressing issues hounding Cambodia such as those on governance and corruption.
Soenthrith’s reportage revealed a deep understanding and connection to Cambodia’s history — and a passion for truth.
“While we deeply regret Soenthrith’s passing, we take comfort in the knowledge that his life and work will be an enduring legacy for all journalists in and beyond the region who are persisting in their job notwithstanding the challenges that confront them,” said Tess Bacalla, executive director of Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA).
Orphaned by the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal rule in the 1970s, during which he “saw so much evil and cruelty that can’t be compared with anything else in the world,” he emerged as a critical voice in seeking truth from the regime’s top leaders.
In an article he wrote for BBC in 2010, he demanded answers for “why they killed their own nation, why did they consider our nation as their enemy.”
Soenthrith’s life “is a testament that one should never give up, and instead should keep working towards justice, transparency and accountability, no matter the many challenges faced, said Chak Sopheap, Executive Director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and chairperson of the Board of Trustees of SEAPA.
Soenthrith was a founding member of the Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ), a non-government organization that seeks to protect the interests of Cambodian journalists and raise the quality of their reportage.
Often referred to by colleagues as a legend in Cambodian journalism, Soenthrith was a journalist with a heart. A 1997 picture by Rainy Sam (Cambodia National Rescue Party) shows the dedicated newsman helping a dying woman after a grenade attack in a rally.
He was a teacher, volunteer, and builder when he was not on his journalist beat. In 2000, Soenthrith built the Volunteer English School (VES) in Kandal village with his own hands and savings.
On her Twitter account last December, Julia Wallace, Soenthrith’s colleague at The Cambodia Daily and currently with the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, described him as a man known for his excellent reporting and for his sweet nature.
“May the generation of journalists he mentored, all those who cross his path and those who read his work be inspired to undertake, promote and protect high-quality, independent and fearless journalism,” said CCHR’s Sopheap.