The government has distanced itself from a scathing letter and accompanying Nazi propaganda image featured on a local news website, after previously endorsing the letter’s claim that foreign media were destroying peace in Cambodia.
The anonymous letter – titled Behavior Plunging Cambodians Into a Bonfire of War Because of Foreigners – was published by Fresh News on Friday and was accompanied by a cartoon that originally appeared in the anti-Semitic publication Der Sturmer in 1943. The publisher, Julius Streicher, was later hanged in Nuremberg for inciting murder and extermination of the Jews.
The original cartoon depicts World War II allies Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin on the cusp of executing a German woman on a chopping block adorned with a Star of David.
The re-imagining superimposes the Phnom Penh Post, the Cambodia Daily and Global Witness logos onto the heads of the executioners, the woman as “peace”, and the Cambodian flag on the chopping block.
The letter came in the wake of a damning Global Witness report exposing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s family’s business empire. The report was covered by media outlets worldwide including the New York Times, Guardian and Al Jazeera.
The use of Nazi propaganda raised eyebrows for Germans living in Cambodia. Nazi symbolism remains a highly sensitive issue in Germany, where the swastika remains forbidden.
German Ambassador Joachim Baron von Marschall yesterday said via email that while “[i]n principle the freedom of expression should be supported”, the use of the Photoshopped image was potentially problematic. “I do regret the fact that some people still feel they have to revert to Nazi imagery to express their views. What does this say about their mindset?!” he wrote.
Fresh News CEO Lim Cheavutha said he plucked the image from Facebook to pair with the letter and maintained that his news service, which is routinely the first local outlet to receive key government announcements, was independent.
“I have no comments for the point that foreign newspapers destroy peace in Cambodia. Publishing this story is my right; I cannot comment if this picture is related to Nazis,” he said.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday told the Post that he did not “want to give any value to that letter”, despite telling the Daily on Saturday he agreed with the letter’s condemnation of both papers as opposition propaganda machines.
When asked if he was troubled by the use of Nazi propaganda, he replied: “I have no concern at all. I consider it freedom of expression; I don’t want it to be escalated.”