Police questioned a foreign reporter for several hours Wednesday and erased digital photographs she had taken of Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, during his much-anticipated visit to S-21.
It was the second incident involving the media and the Khmer Rouge tribunal in as many days, and spread ill will through the press corps that pooled for hours on the streets around the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum during Duch’s visit.
A Khmer Rouge tribunal official said journalists and others could face prosecution for violating the tribunal’s “confidentiality.”
Chamkar Mon district police chief Ouch Sokhon said Phnom Penh Post reporter Tracey Shelton had been “invited” for questioning and had not been detained, though all her photographs were deleted. “There is a ban on taking pictures of any of the activities,” he said.
ECCC Public Affairs Chief Helen Jarvis said Wednesday that under the tribunal’s internal rules any person, whether an employee of the court or not, who knowingly discloses confidential information in violation of a judicial order is subject to sanction by the tribunal, Cambodian authorities or the UN.
According to Jarvis, such sanctions could include being barred from the court’s premises or being referred to a Cambodian court for prosecution.
The site visits to Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng had been ordered off-limits by the tribunal’s judges, she said.
Of transgressors, Jarvis added: “At this stage it is up to judges to consider what action to take.”
Also Wednesday, Magnum photographer John Vink said he was warned by a tribunal official that if he published a photograph of Duch he would be blacklisted from the court.
Vink said he had no photographs of Duch and that while he understood the need to keep investigations secret, the court’s actions had done little to bolster its public image.
“They try to protect the judicial process with threats, by restricting freedom outside the judicial process, which is not their mandate at all,” Vink said.
He added that if a photographer were able to take pictures of Duch, the fault would lie not with the photographer, but with the ECCC. “If they’d done their job properly you wouldn’t have access,” he said.
On Tuesday, several reporters managed to pass a police roadblock and watch Duch’s visit to the Choeung Ek killing fields from just outside the perimeter fence.
“We just walked, no one stopped us,” said local reporter Ek Madra, who said he was joined by CTN’s well-known news anchor Soy Sopheap and a CTN cameraman, who managed to shoot a short video of Duch.
CTN General Manager Glen Felgate said Wednesday that the court’s UN public affairs officer, Peter Foster, asked CTN not to air the video footage of Duch.
“We were asked not to air it by the ECCC,” he said.
“My understanding is that we were requested to respect certain access restrictions…. We respected that request.”
Jarvis said tribunal judges have made every effort to open the work of the court to the public.
“This court is more transparent than any other in the history of Cambodia and certainly stands up to international standards in terms of transparency,” she added.