Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith has agreed to appear before the National Assembly to answer questions about the ministry’s order to ban and confiscate Global Witness’ controversial forestry report, officials said Monday.
The report, released June 1, accuses senior government officials and their relatives of criminality and environmental destruction. Officials and others named have strongly denied the report’s claims. SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said Monday that he wanted Khieu Kanharith to explain his ministry’s June 3 ban, which Son Chhay said he felt was unconstitutional.
“I don’t see any law that prevents [disseminating reports],” Son Chhay said. “The ban has abused the Constitution because the Constitution grants the right to disseminate information,” he claimed.
The 1995 Press Law allows the government to confiscate printed matter deemed a threat to political stability, but Son Chhay said he felt Constitutional guarantees of free speech should prevail.
In a letter dated Friday, National Assembly Deputy President and CPP lawmaker Nguon Nhel referred Son Chhay’s invitation to Khieu Kanharith to appear in parliament to the minister.
Khieu Kanharith wrote in an e-mail Monday that he consents to appear at the Assembly but doubted Son Chhay’s motives in summoning him.
“When Son Chhay requested my presence, I will be going to meet him,” he wrote. “But I think this is just for his personal publicity rather than really to ask for clarification because as a lawmaker, he must have some basic understanding of the law,” he said.
Khieu Kanharith added that he knew of no legal bar against the government’s order banning the publication.
Independent journalism trainer Moeun Chhean Nariddh said Sunday that the Information Ministry was an unnecessary government body and was acting as an obstacle to a free press.
“The important thing is the public’s right to know,” he said of the Global Witness report. “If the report is wrong, [critics of the report] should send letters to the editors to clarify which points of this information were wrong. They should give their version of the story.”
“The Information Ministry is just functioning in the interests of the government. In a sense, they are representing the government while the media is representing the interests of the public,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)