AN ethnic Vietnamese journalist deported last year for allegedly plotting to topple
the Hanoi government is back in Cambodia and wants to reopen his newspaper.
Ly Chandara's paper was closed in late 1995 by the Information Ministry, which cited
intelligence reports that he was a top official in the anti-Hanoi organization, Tu
Do Vietnam (Free Vietnam).
He was arrested and deported to Vietnam with two other alleged anti-Hanoi activists
Chandara, after his return to Phnom Penh, said he had been held without trial in
a prison in Ho Chi Minh City for almost seven months.
"They accused me of being against the Vietnamese government. I am not anti-Hanoi
but my newspaper wrote the facts about human right violations [in Vietnam],"
Ly Chandara said he was taken to Cambodia and released Oct 10 after signing a declaration
to Vietnamese and Cambodian authorities that he would not plot against Vietnam or
get involved in politics.
His release followed a visit to him in prison by Cambodian Ministry of Interior officials,
"I agreed to sign because I wanted to get out of prison .... I think they considered
me a political prisoner," he said, adding that he had feared he would die in
prison if he did not sign.
Asked why Cambodian authorities should have visited him to arrange his release, he
said that he had been told they acted at the request of his wife in Cambodia. But
he believed international human rights groups' complaints about his treatment was
also a factor.
One of the two men deported with him had also been released but the third, Ly Thara,
was still in Vietnam, he said.
London-based Amnesty International and other human rights groups condemned the deportations
at the time and said the three men faced possible persecution in Vietnam.
Tu Do Vietnam is believed to be one of several anti-Hanoi groups led by former high-ranking
members of the erstwhile United States-backed South Vietnam military ousted from
power by North Vietnamese forces in 1975.
The Hanoi government has urged Phnom Penh to take action against such groups, claiming
they aim to overthrow the Vietnam government.
The Cambodian government began cracking down on them in 1995 and has since expelled
or deported around 30 people, including US citizens, for alleged involvement in these
Chandara's deportation prompted a group of 13 ethnic Vietnamese to rush into the
US Embassy to seek asylum. They left after Cambodian officials promised that no action
would be taken against them.
Chandara said he wanted to reopen his newspaper, but would publish it in Khmer, not
Vietnamese as he did before it was closed down.
The jailed editor - who said he was born in Cambodia and had documents to show he
is a Khmer citizen - admitted some concern that he could be deported again to Vietnam
in the future.
"Of course I must be careful about what I write, but I have to continue to write
Information Ministry Secretary of State Khieu Kanharith said he has not seen any
application to restart his newspaper from Chandara.
But Khmer Journalists Association co-president Pin Samkhon said that Khieu Kanharith,
and Minister of Information Ieng Mouly, had indicated that they wanted to make sure
Chandara has "no problem with the Vietnamese Embassy".
Pin Samkhon said he had advised Ly Chandara to keep a low profile after his return
as he feared for his safety.