The Information Ministry on Friday ordered newspapers and magazines not to serialize a recent report by the forestry watchdog Global Witness, which accuses a “kleptocratic elite” of government officials and their relatives of corruption and environmental destruction.
Describing the report as a politically motivated attack on the government, the ministry announced on June 3 that it would ban the report and order all copies confiscated. Individuals named in the report have strongly denied its accusations.
Friday’s statement cited the ban in ordering print media to halt serialization of the report.
“I would like to ask all editors to halt the publications immediately,” Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith wrote in the statement. “If they continue to publish it, we will take legal measures.”
Khieu Kanharith said by telephone Sunday that the media may still make reference to the report, but may not reprint it in full.
“The media have already published their stories for a week and that should be enough,” he added.
Since the report’s release on June 1, pro-SRP newspaper Sralanh Khmer published serialized, word-for-word reproductions, he said. Khieu Kanharith said he knew of no other newspapers that had done so.
He also claimed that despite the statement, the government would not take action against any newspapers that continue to reproduce the report. He warned, however, that “newspapers or magazines must be responsible before the law if the people who were mentioned in the report file lawsuits against them.”
“[The ban] does not affect journalistic freedom. We aren’t pressuring the newspapers,” he maintained.
Sralanh Khmer editor-in-chief Thach Keth said he had intended to publish the entire report but would now only publish articles describing the contents.
“It is very unjust for readers. The readers want to know what is happening,” he said. “They cannot just rely on government newspapers and radio.”
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said that Cambodian courts were not independent enough to offer sufficient protection to journalists who disagree with the government’s view on the report.
“Right now the government says this report is not true,” he said. “The government has grounds to prosecute those who publish this.”
Pen Samithy, head of the Cambodian Club of Journalists and editor-in-chief of Khmer-language newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea Daily, said he had avoided giving excessive attention to Global Witness’ allegations.
“I think the report is only accusations and there is no explanation from those who were accused,” he said.
Global Witness announced in a statement Friday that it would fully cooperate with a probe sparked by its report.
The Information Ministry said June 4 that it was ordering an investigation of the report’s allegations conducted by the forestry monitor Societe Generale de Surveillance.
“Our report was always intended to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of those elite family members, senior officials and generals responsible for illegal logging,” Global Witness Director Simon Taylor said in the statement.
“If the government is now serious about ensuring that this happens, then that deserves to be applauded,” he added.
SGS Country Manager Thach Suon could not be reached for comment.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)