Editors Says Suspension is Personal Attack
The Ministry of Information has ordered the second 30-day suspension of a local newspaper after last week’s publication of a story on succession to the throne, which the government claims was an insult to King Norodom Sihanouk.
Ouk Kim Seng, editor and publisher of the Cambodia News Bulletin, said Saturday the suspension is a personal attack on his newspaper and the beginning of a trend to stifle press freedom in Cambodia.
Local human rights group Licadho on Sunday called the suspension undemocratic.
Confirming the suspension of the weekly English and Khmer language newspaper, Information Minister Lu Laysreng said the decision was made following the publication last Tuesday of a succession story titled “Search for One Who Would Be King.”
The suspension, which was imposed Thursday and is the second for the newspaper in the last three months, may also be followed with court action by the government to permanently close the newspaper, Lu Laysreng said.
“It was insulting to the king. This has happened too many times already…and this time it is unforgivable,” Lu Laysreng said.
Newspaper editor Ouk Kim Seng said Saturday that the controversial article was not written by his reporters, but was reproduced in his newspaper after it was published July 1 on the Web site of the South China Morning Post newspaper.
The Ministry of Information has not specified what aspects of the story they find insulting to the King, Ouk Kim Seng said.
“They find fault with my paper all the time. But this time it was a full translation of an article…. It was neither inflammatory or damaging,” Ouk Kim Seng said, adding that the first suspension followed articles on government corruption.
“I really want to go to court instead of being suspended,” he said, contending that a court hearing will allow him to properly defend the material in his newspaper.
The South China Morning Post article, written by William Barnes, charts the “on-off” reign of King Norodom Sihanouk from the post-independence period in the 1960s through the post UN-sponsored elections in 1993.
“Yet, this extraordinary monarch’s increasing frailty over the past 12 months is a reminder that, for all his huge estimation of himself, he is not immortal,” the article begins.
Licadho President Kek Galabru said Sunday that the government’s suspension of the paper was undemocratic and damaging to the image of Cambodia as an advocate of freedom expression.
“If the government is angry they can write a letter and demand a correction or they can sue the newspaper….But they should not close [the newspaper],” Kek Galabru said, noting that the King is himself an advocate of free speech and would not agree with the closure.
Nor, apparently, would some government officials.
Om Yentieng, an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, said at a recent forum on the media that Cambodia “has broader freedom of the press than Thailand because in Thailand no one can criticize the king but the press here can criticize the King.”