THE Ministry of Information plans to pull two study books from bookshelves across the country after receiving a letter from Education Minister Im Sethy saying that they contain unsuitable “political” content.
In a letter to Information Minister Khieu Kanharith dated July 5, Im Sethy requested that the general knowledge textbooks, compiled by a Cambodian author for exam preparation, be banned because of their apparent criticisms of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
He said the ministry had discovered “unsuitable” passages on pages 146 and 147 of one book and on pages 100 and 101 of the second. He compared both volumes, penned by local author Pen Puthsphea, to “political leaflets”.
“The ministry would like Your Excellency to take action to prohibit the publishing or selling of the books or any documents that are not suitable, and take action fairly to manage the publishing and distribution of documents and books,” stated the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Post.
According to photocopies of the offending paragraphs enclosed with the letter, the first textbook asks questions such as, “In the near future, will Cambodia be able to develop? Why?” and, “What do you think of the practice of human rights and freedom in Cambodian society?”
The answer to the first question reads: “The government which is currently led by Prime Minister Hun Sen will not be able to lead Cambodia towards progress in the near future because corruption occurs from the top level of the government down to the local level, and law enforcement and the practice of human rights are still below zero.”
Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment yesterday. But in a hand-written notation in the margins of a copy of the letter, he ordered “all provincial and municipal information departments to collect the books and give a warning to the publisher of the book urgently”.
When contacted on Monday, the book’s author, Pen Puthsphea, said he had not received any communication directly from the Ministry of Education, but that he received a copy of Im Sethy’s letter last week from an acquaintance in Takeo province.
He denied that his materials contained criticism of the government.
“For the points the ministry has mentioned above, I have just responded to the real situation by including both pro and con ideas that are only my own answers to the questions,” he said.
Pen Puthsphea said the ministry’s attempt to have his book pulled from shelves was strange, since it had not previously attracted any complaints despite having been on sale since 2006. He said the move impinged on his right to free speech.
“It affects the right to publish and the right to express ideas, both of which are mentioned in the Cambodian Constitution,” he said. He added that he would be ready to explain himself to officials if further action was taken against him.
Ly Somony, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Education, said his ministry had the authority to initiate action against the publications, and that the Information Ministry would carry out the order.