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Cyclo driver's letter leads to ban on paper

Cyclo driver's letter leads to ban on paper

A LETTER to the editor from a cyclo driver stirred the government to close the independent Khmer-language newspaper Oddomkete Khmer and slap charges on the editor-in-chief.

The paper is one of two papers critical of the government to have been shut down, just two weeks before the new Press Law is to go before the National Assembly.

The Ministry of Information closed Oddomkete Khmer on Nov 11, finding it had used derogatory words in a headline and "seriously targeted the co-Prime Ministers."

The ministry's Secretary of State Khieu Kanharith said the paper would not be allowed to publish anymore.

"The ministry calls for the court to take the paper into account according to the law," he said.

The letter - written by cyclo driver Chum Sothy who lives at Daem Kor Market - was headed: "Stop barking, Two Samdechs Prime Ministers".

The letter said at the beginning of Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen's performance "the people really loved them both but now the people would like to inform you that we stop loving you."

It went on to say that was because the two co-premiers had "betrayed the people" and King Norodom Sihanouk.

In a press statement, the ministry said that the paper published "uncouth" articles of malicious intent without journalistic ethics.

The cyclo driver's letter - published in full - asked what sort of reshuffle was one that ditched Sam Rainsy, and made reference to [Interior Ministry chief] Hok Long Dy as being corrupt.

It added that Ranariddh had turned a personal matter between he and Rainsy into a "national issue" because he feared Rainsy could be more popular than him.

Oddomkete Khmer editor Thach Keth said his paper was independent and it targeted government's faults and corruption.

He said he had never been threatened by anyone and that it was a surprise for him to receive an "unreasonable" government accusation that his paper called prime minister as "dogs".

On July 13 the paper received warning from the ministry for an article on the failed coup bid, he said."We are not afraid of going to the court because this is unjust. We are waiting for the caseto be called," he said.

"I will show the court that I did not make any mistake. My article alleged to insult was received from a reader," he said.

Though he said he did not intend to say anything bad about the Prime Ministers, Keth said he would have to apologize to them if the court found him guilty.

Keth said he printed 5,000 issues and 80 to 90 percent were sold.

Samrek Reas Khmer [Khmer Cry] was also shut down at the same time - after only three issues - when some articles used allegedly derogatory words.

The headline of one letter article says "Samdech Krom Preah or Krom Pret supports Yuon" [Krompreah is one of the honorable names used for royalty, meaning God group; Krom Pret means ghost or devil spirit group].

The article says Ranariddh used "his honey tongue to collect votes during the election campaign."

The article said the people were very happy when Funcinpec won the election, but his words "turned sour" for the people, it said.

Information Minister Ieng Mouly said publication of the Oddomkete Khmae newspaper had been suspended for 30 days. The government had no power to close the newspaper indefinitely, but would refer the case to court.

He alleged the newspaper compared the prime ministers to animals. The government directive suspending publication refers to "uncouth" articles with "intent to malign" unbefitting of journalistic ethics. Mouly said the other newspaper, Samrek Reas Khmer, was closed down because it was not officially registered with the government and it had insulted the King. It will not be allowed to publish unless it was registered.

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