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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Government gag stays on paper

Government gag stays on paper

THE publisher of the bilingual newspaper the Cambodia News Bulletin is still waiting

to hear if his newspaper will be allowed to reopen following a government shutdown

three weeks ago.

On April 4 the Ministry of Information (MoI) ordered the newspaper to cease publication

for 30 days - a move strongly criticized by an international organization, the Committee

to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC).

The paper's publisher, Ouk Kim Seng, said: "We don't know on what grounds MoI

has issued the suspension. They did not explain the reason other than for publishing

an article defaming the leaders of the Government. We don't know what grounds or

which article."

On the same day as the suspension order, MoI sent notice to all printers in Cambodia

forbidding the printing of the Cambodia News Bulletin.

Khieu Kanharith, Secretary of State for MoI, told the Post that the newspaper was

suspended for articles saying the Minister for the Council of Ministers, Sok An,

accepted bribes to approve wildlife export and petroleum exploration deals, as well

as other "groundless stories" accusing high government officials of corruption.

Kanharith said while it is okay to criticize government leaders, they cannot be accused

of illegal activity without proof.

But CHRAC has issued a statement saying this is not sufficient reason under Cambodian

law to suspend the publication of a newspaper.

They said the law is quite specific and a newspaper can only be suspended if it has

posed a threat to national security and political stability.

Seng said in recent weeks he heard warnings from journalist colleagues that his paper's

reporting was irritating the Government.

"According to my information, [the MoI] wanted to suspend Cambodia News Bulletin

about two or three weeks ago, but I was told that officials at MoI could not find

grounds," he said.

Before the suspension, Seng had not received official complaints from the MoI. But

he would get the occasional call from Kanharith asking: "'Hey, why are you so

hard?' and I would answer: 'We report the truth,'" said Seng.

"I think the Government wants to shut my mouth because every report - even if

the language we used is a bit strong - is backed by documents."

Kanharith told the Post the Cambodia News Bulletin did not behave like an opposition

paper which simply expressed strong opinions, but instead had a "systematic

policy to attack and defame the Government".

Chan Sokhoa, publisher of the opposition paper Khmer Conscience, said press freedom

in Cambodia is not adequate. "If we say bad things about the Government we can

be punished. But if we say good things, even if we make them up, then they like us

- they even give us money."

Kanharith said the legality of the suspension will be decided by the courts, but

Seng said he had no knowledge of this, had not received a summons, nor spoken with

an investigating judge.

In Cambodia, said Seng, "when you report the truth, there might be a problem

... I wish the Government would obey their own laws."

In a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen, the New York-based CPJ's Executive Director

Ann Cooper said: "The CPJ is dismayed by your Government's censorship of the

Bulletin. While the paper is known for its controversial stories exposing government

corruption and mismanagement, that in no way justifies suppressing its publication.

Kanharith said: "[The CPJ] must make a distinction between a good journalist

and a rogue journalist." He suspected the CPJ was not aware of the content of

the articles in question.

Seng said the Bulletin had no affiliation with political parties and the paper's

launch - on January 1 this year - was self-financed by his other business ventures.

"I want to be seen as a neutral, independent paper."

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