At least six opposition newspapers say they will defy a ban on publishing political propaganda during the election campaign, even if it means risking safety.
In a petition signed Wednesday, the editors and publishers stated the ban violates the Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of expression and press.
“I think this contradicts democracy,” said Keo Sothea, assistant to the publisher of Khmer Youth, a pro-Sam Rainsy newspaper.
Signers of the petition vowed to disregard the National Election Committee regulation and “go on publishing as we have been, without changing at all, even if we have to risk our own safety.”
One opposition paper had a headline Thursday drawing similarities between Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot and Second Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The petition, signed a day
before Thursday’s campaign launch, sets up another possible confrontation between Cambodia’s often unruly opposition press and what is perceived by many to be a CPP-dominated National Election Committee.
The NEC issued regulations in late May that ban Cambodian media from running political propaganda and paid political advertisements during the campaign.
An NEC adviser said at the time that the committee would look for violations of article 76 of the electoral law, which forbids parties and candidates from “using violence, abuse or contemptuous remarks [and] causing fear, confusion and the loss of confidence in the secrecy of the ballot.”
NEC sources previously indicated that the main focus would be on the broadcast media.
But NEC Media Officer Prum Nhiem Vichit warned Thursday: “We are not afraid to carry out this law to any media outlet that violates our regulation.”
Fines or suspension are possible, he said, adding that the NEC also will be looking for violations of the press law. “The important issue is to ensure that lives will be safe and that there be no political violence during the campaign.”
The newspapers signing the petition were Angkor Thmei (New Angkor), Moneaksekar Khmer (Khmer Conscience), Proyuth (Fighting), Samleng Yuvachun Khmer (Khmer Youth), Smarady Khmer (Khmer Conscience) and Udom Katte Khmer (Khmer Ideal). At least one other opposition paper said Thursday it supported the petition.
Norbert Klein, editor of The Mirror, which monitors Khmer-language newspapers, said what constitutes a violation of the ban is open to interpretation because the regulation is imprecise.
Another key question, he said, will be whether the ban is applied equally or enforced selectively. “If you look through the [Cambodian] newspapers in the past, there has been contempt [expressed] on all sides.”