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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Editor jailed despite pleas

Editor jailed despite pleas

NGOUN Noun, the editor of the popular Khmer newspaper Morning News, was jailed

after running an article accusing Deputy Prime Minister and Co-Interior Minister

Sar Kheng of being involved in the coup bid - despite volunteering to shut down

his paper.

Noun also wrote letters of apology to CPP leaders where he

confessed he was at fault and asked for forgiveness. A source at Morning News

said he was pressured into writing the letters.

On July 8 Morning News

printed several photographs of Sar Kheng next to an old photograph of a tank

taking part in a coup in Thailand.

The accompaning story linked Sar Kheng

to an irregular delivery of police uniforms to units based in eastern Prey Veng

where support for the coup organizers was strongest.

Sar Kheng was

quoted by Reuters on July 8 as saying: "I absolutely deny the

report."

While under house arrest on July 8, Noun wrote three letters of

apology asking for mercy which he sent to CPP leaders Co-Prime Minister Hun Sen,

Sar Kheng, and interim Head of State Chea Sim.

The handwritten letters

obtained by the Post read: "Due to the Morning News publishing [an article on

July 8] about the July 2 coup affecting your high credibility and patriotism, I

have honor to request you [Hun Sen] to forgive me for my fault and I will stop

[writing about] all actions concerning the coup, especially stories concerning

your character.

"I would like to take this opportunity to say that

because a journalist's career is too arduous to endure I myself have decided to

suspend publishing this newspaper from today onward."

He also said in the

letter that the story had come from a foreign source but he was unable to verify

all of it.

Deputy Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith was quoted by

Voice of America as saying Noun had been charged with creating

disorder.

Noun has called on Charto, an NGO of Cambodian legal defenders

trained by Untac, to defend his case reported Ahreyathor.

Noun's son

Norind Lakishmy was quoted as saying: "We have evidence to support what we have

written, but we have to protect our sources or we are afraid they will be

killed.

"My father wanted to show people the truth. Now we see he has no

right to print the truth," he was reported as saying in the Cambodia Daily on

July 11.

A reporter from the Morning News, who requested anonymity, said

Noun was forced to write his confession.

He said: "This is not our

mistake, but we have been forced to make it appear that way."

In late

March Noun was detained in T3 prison for two days after running several articles

accusing a provincial governor of corruption.

Noun used to work in the

cabinet office of Prince Ranariddh, and Funcinpec reportedly wanted him to

become a member of the National Assembly. But the plan was dropped after debate

with the CPP in the National Assembly.

Instead of rushing to defend their

jailed colleague, editors at the rival Koh Santhipheap ran a series of articles

mocking the Morning News. They tried to humiliate Noun over his confession and

made fun of him being in jail.

Koh Santipheap said its troubled rival

was pro-Funcinpec and accused it of trying to create instability and of

attempting to split Funcinpec and the CPP.

The reporter at Morning News

denied the claims. He said: "We do not back any person or political party, we

are a private newspaper.

"Koh Santhipheap are scolding us to protect

themselves. They are supported by the CPP. They were offered premises and

printing material for free. We wanted to crack down on corruption."

He

said Koh Santhipheap was also criticizing Morning News because it was losing

circulation to its rival.

"Our circulation has increased from 100,000 to

500,000 making us the leading Khmer paper," the reporter

claimed.

Government spokesman Sieng Lapresse was quoted by Reuters as

saying the Morning News article may have breached national security

laws.

At a press conference a few hours after Noun's arrest, Interior

Ministry You Hockry appealed to all local and foreign journalists to cooperate

with the government and avoid exaggerated reports which he said could cause

disorder and uprisings.

He said the government is now trying very hard

to bring calm and prevent any more threats to national security.

Hockry

warned similar measures would be taken against any other media operations which

published stories such as those which appeared in the Morning News.

The

Interior Minister said he and Sar Kheng did not wish to deny press freedom but

that the aim of the conference was to create better cooperation between the

government and press.

He accused some newspapers of deliberately

criticizing the government to increase their readership. He said the articles

could not be believed as they were often anonymous letters or reports from

unidentified sources.

"In the name of journalists you have to say the

truth, you are reporters serving the people and the nation, not just your own

business," Hockry said.

He added that false stories accusing foreign

countries of being involved in the coup were souring the relations between her

neighbors.

In fact the Cambodian government had not accused any foreign

governments of backing the coup, Hockry said, but rather the government was

investigating the involvement of foreign people in the plot. The co-interior

minister was referring to 14 Thais held in the wake of the coup bid. He said no

allegations had yet been substantiated.

He said some media, especially

the foreign media were sending out false information.

The co-premiers

placed a gag on ministers to stop them talking about the coup bid. On July 8 a

state radio broadcast said: "The Royal Government would like to announce an

absolute ban on all government officials responsible for investigating the

failed coup from providing information to the press without the permission of

the two prime ministers."

The order was to prevent "confusion" about the

reporting of the coup investigation, the announcer said.

Meanwhile Voice

of America quoted Information Minister Ieng Mouly as saying that papers should

not publish the names of generals allegedly involved in the coup even if such

allegations were true because it would annoy the generals.

The tension of

being a journalist is beginning to worry many Khmers. One newspaper editor, who

requested anonymity, said he has to work from home and is afraid to go outside

because he fears for his life.

He said: "I'm beginning to turn white

because I haven't seen the sun in several months."

Another journalist

said: "Maybe I will give up my arduous job because whenever I write stories I

get very worried, but being a journalist I have to fulfill my duty."

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