The Ministry of Information is considering whether to suspend two opposition newspapers for allegedly failing to back up accounts that four monks and nine demonstrators were being held in Kompong Speu province.
Secretary of State for Information Khieu Kanharith said Tuesday he might suspend Udom Katte Khmer (Khmer Ideal) and Samleng Yuvachun Khmer (Voice of Khmer Youth).
He said he had given the Khmer-language papers 72 hours to “provide more details about the allegations of four monks being detained in Stung Chral,” a small river community near Pech Nil pass in Kompong Speu province. He also said the papers alleged that nine demonstrators were being held by police after taking part in opposition protests last month in Phnom Penh. Pech Nil is a notorious dumping ground for murder victims.
The two Khmer-language papers, Khieu Kanharith said, failed to produce evidence substantiating their reports, leading him to conclude they were fabricated.
“We’re now considering shutting down these papers until they get details to show us about this information,” Khieu Kanharith said. An order was being prepared to submit to the courts, he said.
The government issued a statement on Sept 13 saying that no monks were being detained.
But the opposition papers stood by their accounts Tuesday, claiming their reporting was based on interviews with family members of the victims and confidential human rights reports.
“We are not afraid to publish and continue to publish because we have enough evidence,” said Keo Sothea, publisher of Samleng Yuvachum Khmer. He said he had received a phone call from the Ministry of Information asking him not to publish today, but said he would continue to publish until he receives an official letter from the ministry.
A reporter from Udom Katte Khmer said his paper ran the story on the monks in Stung Chral because it was the result of a “brutal action on the innocent demonstration and monks.”
“It’s a true report which we based on a lot of evidence, especially from human rights workers,” the reporter said. “But why did Khieu Kanharith accuse us of making up the story?”
Both newspapers said they replied to Khieu Kanharith, who in turn claimed he was provided with “false details.”
Thousands of people, including many monks, took to the streets of the capital last month to protest the results of the July 26 election and the government’s failure to investigate thoroughly claims of election irregularities.