2011 Knight International Journalism Award

Thet Sambath, senior reporter for the Phnom Penh Post and a documentary filmmaker

June 26, 2011

Uncovering the Secrets of the Brutal Pol Pot Regime

As a child, Thet Sambath lost his parents and his brother to the brutal regime of Pol Pot. It was a tragedy he shared with countless other Cambodians across their small country – the survivors of a genocide with more than one million deaths through political executions, starvation and disease. 

On a mission to grasp murder on that scale, Sambath spent a decade tracking down and winning the confidence of the Khmer Rouge’s No. 2 man, Nuon Chea, living as a free man near the border with Thailand. He used the talents he had developed in his day job as an investigative reporter regularly breaking stories of scandal and corruption, first at the Cambodian Daily and currently at the Phnom Penh Post.

Sambath conducted scores of interviews with the reticent Nuon Chea. Then, working with British filmmaker Rob Lemkin, he turned his reporting into the award-winning “Enemies of the People” documentary. The moving film was short-listed for an Oscar last year, when it also won the Special Jury Prize/World Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. The New York Times called it “inspiring – a testament to one man’s persistent search for the truth,” and The Wall Street Journal said it “may be one of the most important films about Cambodia ever made.”

Within Cambodia, its impact was close to home and personal. It will be used as evidence in the trial of Nuon Chea this year, and it brought Cambodians some understanding of that tragic time in their history.
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