The Ministry of Information has threatened to suspend two opposition papers for insulting the King and Prime Minister Hun Sen, but the editor of one of the publications said Wednesday he stands by his story.
Khieu Kanharith, secretary of state at the Ministry of Information, said he planned to suspend the Khmer-language newspapers Samleng Yuvachon Khmer (Voice of Khmer Youth) and Moneaksekar Khmer (Khmer Conscience) for editorials and stories printed in the last week.
“I plan to suspend them, but now they have asked for a pardon,” Khieu Kanharith said. “I asked them to write the [apology] in a published letter. After I see the letters, I will decide what to do.”
He said the offensive article in Samleng Yuvachon Khmer had the headline “Do you know whether Hun Sen becomes the Yuon dog or Chinese dog?” which appeared in the Feb 13-14 edition. “Yuon” is considered by Vietnamese to be a derogatory term.
The pieces in Moneaksekar Khmer being targeted by the government are an editorial on Feb 10 entitled “If Khmers are lazy, the Khmer King is lazy, too,” and another editorial that appeared the following day with the headline, “Vietnamese immigrants chide that Khmers are lazy, what do the Khmer people think of this?”
Khieu Kanharith said the articles are “against the King and [could] incite racial riots.” He said the violations of Samleng Yuvachon Khmer are more serious because the story “compares Hun Sen to a dog.”
Dam Sith, editor of Moneaksekar Khmer, said he stands by the editorials in his paper, saying the publication did nothing wrong.
“They want to muzzle the opposition newspapers,” Dam Sith said. “This is a very ugly habit of the government.”
Editors at Samleng Yuvachon Khmer could not be reached for comment.
Information Minister Lu Laysreng said he is meeting with the editors of the papers to “educate” them and encourage them to write “more positive news.
“I am telling my colleagues to do better,” he said.
But Dam Sith said the government should also try harder.
“Why do they know only how to suspend the papers?” he asked. “Why don’t they think of illegal Vietnamese immigrants in Cambodia?”
Wayne Sharpe, director of the Institute for Media, Policy and Civil Society in Cambodia, said according to Cambodian press law, the government can suspend a paper only if it threatens national security or creates political instability. The institute is a Canadian NGO that is training Cambodian journalists.
Lin Neumann, a Bangkok-based consultant to the Committee to Protect Journalists, said threats to suspend newspapers are a volation of international norms of press freedom.
“The government should not be using its power to license the press as a tool to enforce government policy,” he said.
Koul Panha, a founding member of local human rights group Adhoc and now an adviser, said “freedom of the press is still weak in Cambodia.”
“Freedom is still limited because you can only say things that support those in power,” he said. “That is not fair to freedom.”
Phi Thach, chief of cabinet for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said the purpose of the threat is to ban the opposition from the political scene. “They want to reduce the volume of the opposition voice,” he said.
The last major crackdown on print media occurred in January 1998, when six opposition papers were suspended. It was the largest single media crackdown since the 1993 UN-sponsored elections.
Then-Second Prime Minister Hun Sen repealed the suspensions and halted legal proceedings against the papers, saying the case would not be conducive to free and fair elections.