The government ordered all copies of The Burma Daily, a new supplement inserted inside The Cambodia Daily, confiscated Monday morning on the grounds that it was published without permission and stands to harm relations with Burma, officials said.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said by telephone that the necessary permission had not been sought to publish the four-page English-language Burma Daily and carry it inside issues of The Cambodia Daily, which has been published since 1993 and has a daily circulation of 6,000 copies.
“It is a big mistake,” Khieu Kanharith said.
“The Burma Daily was published without a permit from our Ministry of Information. So we must confiscate it like today,” he said.
“If we permit The Burma Daily to be printed in Cambodia, it affects the relations between the Cambodian government and the Burma government,” he said.
The Burma Daily debuted at eight pages Friday and included an exclusive interview conducted by Bernard Krisher, publisher of The Cambodia Daily, in 2000 with Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been largely under house arrest imposed by the ruling military junta since 1989.
Krisher, who arrived in Phnom Penh on an unrelated visit Sunday night, said by telephone Monday that he published The Burma Daily as a supplement inside The Cambodia Daily in order to promote press freedom in Burma.
The order to confiscate the supplement is a violation of those rights in Cambodia, Krisher said.
“It is a total violation,” he said. “I believe they are motivated by, not pressure, but at the urging of the Burmese junta. I am criticizing the Cambodian government for censoring its own press on behalf of the wishes of the Burmese junta leaders,” he said.
The Burma Daily, which is supported by the New York-based Adam Lincoln Steele Foundation, should be treated like any of the other supplements issued regularly by local publications in Cambodia, Krisher said, adding that it was never intended to remain as a regular feature of The Cambodia Daily.
The Burma Daily was to be inserted in the paper for a few days by way of introduction to the project, which is intended to provide the people of Burma with objective information by which they could make their own conclusions about their leadership and other issues, he said.
“It is not part of The Cambodia Daily, but I was introducing something for the Burmese people,” Krisher said, adding that some copies had already been sent by courier to Burma and that the publication would soon be accessible online at www.burmadaily.org, and by mail on request.
“It’s not copyrighted. Anyone can reproduce it,” he said, adding that the publication has no political agenda.
“We are not against the government. We are not trying to overthrow the government, but wish to provide the people of Burma with information.”
Khieu Kanharith said later by e-mail that he warned The Cambodia Daily on Friday that “the [Burma Daily] could not be considered as a supplement of Cambodia Daily because it bears a different logo.”
“Thus, the editor must request the permission to launch it. Nothing had been done and instead on Monday a second issue came out,” he said.
The Cambodia Daily is free to include news relating to Burma, but must do so on its regular international and regional news pages, Khieu Kanharith said.
Krisher denied that either he or the editor were contacted by anyone from the Information Ministry.
“They must have spoken to some telephone operator or office staff. Neither the editor nor the publisher ever spoke to anyone about this,” he wrote by e-mail Monday evening.
News vendors around Phnom Penh reported local police coming to take away copies of The Cambodia Daily on Monday morning. At some newsstands, they said the entire paper was taken away, but others said only The Burma Daily insert was removed.
Sun Sithda, 23, said she sold about 50 copies of The Cambodia Daily with The Burma Daily inside early Monday morning at her newsstand on Street 51, but that by 7:30 am, local police came to confiscate her remaining copies.
“I was afraid when I saw the police come,” she said, adding that police told her The Burma Daily was illegal because it didn’t have permission to be published.
Hy Prou, deputy municipal police chief, confirmed the confiscation Monday, but declined to say how many copies his officers had removed.
Independent media trainer Moeun Chhean Nariddh said he sees the government’s order to confiscate The Burma Daily as a violation of Cambodia’s press freedom, which is enshrined in the Constitution.
“Press freedom is guaranteed…. As a democracy, people should be able to publish any news without permission from government. It is a kind of censorship,” he said.
According to the Cambodian press law, publishers are required to submit names and addresses of new publications to the Ministry of Information. But, Moeun Chhean Nariddh added: “It doesn’t say that if you fail to submit [that information] that they will close you down.”
“Cambodia’s government is close to Burma’s government, and they don’t want to hurt their relationship,” he said.
“Burma is a restricted country,” he added. “Only foreign press can report independently and professionally on what’s going on. Whatever additional media can do reporting on Burma is a good thing.”
The Club of Cambodian Journalists issued a statement Monday evening reporting the confiscation and pledging to “follow the case with attention to ensure that freedom of press is respected and enshrined in democracy in Cambodia.”
Reached by telephone Monday evening, CCJ board of directors member Khieu Kola said he is following the case, and while the CCJ has not reached any conclusions in its investigation, the club does not support any crackdowns in violation of press freedom.