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Press group expresses concern

The Overseas Press Club of Cambodia said yesterday it was “seriously concerned” about the actions of the government’s anti-corruption head, Om Yentieng, who on Friday ordered his staff to confiscate voice recorders from reporters at the end of a press conference.

Om Yentieng, a close advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen, called a press conference to detail the Anti-Corruption Unit’s investigation and arrest of anti-drug czar Moek Dara.

Om Yentieng answered several questions following the event. A Cambodia Daily reporter asked him about a shelved United States Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the deadly 1997 grenade attack that left 16 opposition Sam Rainsy Party activists dead and over 100 wounded.

The Daily has published articles about recently obtained FBI files relating to the investigation.

“Don’t put me into your trap, how much you know about the FBI report”, he said. “You are a Khmer child with Khmer blood, and you recorded my voice without permission”, Om Yentieng said, adding that the reporter could face a court complaint.

Officials then confiscated the reporters’ voice recorders and deleted material from the Q&A.

The OPCC said “journalists clearly have a right to raise questions” about the 1997 grenade attack, and Om Yentieng’s action was “incompatible” with Cambodia’s laws. Confiscation of tapes and/or recorders is a form of pre-publication censorship prohibited by Article 3 of the 1995 Press Law, OPCC said.

Journalists have a responsibility to obtain information “by fair methods”, which includes asking public officials questions of public interest “at or after a press conference”, OPCC said.

Council of Ministers Spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday the question was an “insult.”

“I wish that we don’t challenge each other but work for the public interest”, he said.

Pa Nguon Teang, director of the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media said such actions could undermine public support in the government’s anti-corruption efforts.

“We see a lot of things like this and they have never been prosecuted”, he said. “It shows that the system here is an undemocratic system, a kind of authoritarian system”.

On January 14, a photographer from The Post was taking pictures of an eviction at the controversial Boeung Kak lake development project, but was detained by police who deleted photos from his camera.

“It is hard for us to believe that the activities fighting against corruption will be truly successful because everything in this country is not independent”, Pa Nguon Teang said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VONG SOKHENG

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