Cambodian Journalism Review


Government Confiscates Critical Magazine
November 3, 2007, 9:54 am
Filed under: Khmer Press, Press Freedom

Government Confiscates Critical Magazine

by Moeun Chhean Nariddh

The Cambodian government on Nov 2 sent agents to confiscate copies of the Free Press Magazine (FPM) that carried a cartoon and stories criticizing retired King Norodom Sihanouk and Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith told the Cambodia Daily that the magazine “violated the Constitution and the press law.”

The 1993 Cambodian Constitution states that “the King cannot be violated.” However, no articles in the Press Law say any publications that violate or insult the monarchy will be confiscated or punished.

The US-based Cambodian Action Committee for Justice and Equity (CACJE), which sponsors the publication of FPM, issued a statement on the same day condemning the confiscation of the copies of the magazine.

“This action is the use of authoritarian power [that] oppresses freedom of expression, particularly freedom to disseminate information and people’s freedom to receive information,” wrote Sourn Serey Rotha, FPM’s Political Editor and CACJE’s Mission Chief, in the statement.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith considered the magazine a mouthpiece of republican supporters of the former US-backed Lon Nol Government, which ousted the regime of then Prince Sihanouk in 1970 but was toppled by the Khmer Rouge in 1975.

“Republicans are always against the monarch. Their views are like Khmer Rouge propaganda,” Khieu Kanharith was quoted by the Cambodia Daily.

The cartoon on the cover of the magazine depicts Hun Sen sitting on a chair with a stick in his hand, while he is trying to protect the retired King hiding behind him.

“You touch our King, we’ll kick [you] out from Cambodia,” shouts Hun Sen to a trembling Khmer Rouge Tribunal official in the cartoon.

In August, CACJE issued an announcement calling for the removal of retired King Sihanouk’s immunity so that he could be convened by the Extraordinary Chamber in the Court of Cambodia to testify and explain his role in the Khmer Rouge movement.

However, FPM Publisher Lem Pich Pisey, who used the name Lem Piseth as a reporter for Radio Free Asia, said the government might also have other motives to crack down his magazine.

He said the government might be angered by a poem that refers to Hun Sen as “The Notorious Strongman” and other articles that criticize Prime Minister Hun Sen and the government.

One of the stories recalls the killing of the late actress Piseth Pelika, who was reported to have written a diary describing her love affair with Prime Minister Hun Sen before she was gunned down in central Phnom Penh.

“I think the government wants to hide this story,” he told CJR via a telephone interview on Nov 3. He added: “I think they used the pretext of insulting the king [to shut down FPM].”

Pisey said he was worried about his safety and the security of other writers and staff working for the magazine. But he said FPM had not received an official letter to confiscate or ordering the magazine to shut down.

Though he said had not been threatened following the publication of the magazine, Pisey received a death threat in June this year after he had done a series of investigative stories for RFA on illegal logging in Kompong Thom province based on a report by Global Witness which accused “a kleptocratic elite of stripping of Cambodia’s forests” .

He said he had resigned from RFA to run the magazine.

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