A newspaper publisher jailed for defamation in the 1990s said Mon-day he plans to re-launch his New Liberty newspaper today, after it was shut down for six years be-cause of financial problems.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Hem Vipheak of defamation in 1996 and sentenced him to a year in jail and imposed a 1 million-riel fine, after he published an article titled “A Country for Thieves.” However, following an outcry by the international community, Hem Vipheak spent only seven days in jail before then-King Norodom Sihanouk issued a royal pardon and he was released.
“Right now, the voice of opposition newspapers is in decline,” Hem Vipheak said by telephone Monday about his decision to restart his newspaper. “We would like the voice of the opposition to become stronger.”
New Liberty went bankrupt in 2003, under publisher Soum Virak, who bought the publishing rights from Hem Vipheak soon after his release from prison. Hem Vipheak said that he had hoped to revive the paper immediately after its closure, but until recently, he was unable to negotiate the publication rights.
Dam Sithik, editor in chief of the opposition newspaper Moneak-sekar Khmer, said Monday that he had not heard about the reopening of New Liberty and disagreed with Hem Vipheak’s assessment of newspapers in Cambodia.
“Our newspaper still takes stands and writes stories, but lately there haven’t been many stories. We aren’t afraid of pressure from the government,” Dam Sithik said.
Minister of Information and government spokesman Khieu Kan-harith said that the government doesn’t distinguish between opposition newspapers and those that are supportive of the ruling party.
“The government has never put pressure on newspapers. They have every right to publish their stories,” he said. “We welcome the reopening of New Liberty.”
New Liberty will print 1,500 copies of its daily editions under new publisher Kim Khyhong. It joins more than 400 newspapers currently publishing in Cambodia, according to Khieu Kanharith’s estimate.