Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Daily’s deputy disavows apology

Daily’s deputy disavows apology

Cambodia Daily's Deputy publisher Deborah Krisher-Steele speaks on Tuesday at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Japan.
Cambodia Daily's Deputy publisher Deborah Krisher-Steele speaks on Tuesday at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Japan. Photo supplied

Daily’s deputy disavows apology

The Cambodia Daily’s deputy publisher, Deborah Krisher-Steele, has disavowed a “grovelling” apology letter she signed “under duress”, saying she feared her husband was within hours of arrest if she did not.

At a Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan event on Tuesday, Krisher-Steele revealed the motivations behind the conciliatory tone of the September 9 letter, which expressed regret that observers had suggested her newspaper’s closure on September 4 was linked to political suppression of press freedom and asked Prime Minister Hun Sen to find a “win-win” solution.

“On the day the Cambodian government seized our bank accounts … I get this frantic message from my assistant saying [my husband] Doug is going to be arrested and you have to sign this letter in two hours, and it was all in Khmer,” she said.

“I have no idea what it says, and I’m really scared that my husband’s going to be arrested. And apparently it’s this grovelling letter apologising for everything I said. So I signed it. I will just have to disavow it . . . Under duress, I signed it.”

In an email yesterday, she said her assistant had received the warning call from Soy Sopheap, the publisher of Deum Ampil newspaper and a frequent government interlocutor. Krisher-Steele claimed the letter was drafted by Sopheap.

“In retrospect, I shouldn’t have signed it without knowing exactly what it said. It was a very bad decision I made out of fear,” she said.

However, Sopheap – who admitted to meeting with Daily management before its closure and suggesting they “soften” their tone in a bid to keep the presses rolling – yesterday denied he penned the letter. “I did not know about that,” he said.

The Cambodia Daily printed its last newspaper on September 4 after it was slapped with a disputed $6.3 million tax bill, the details of which were leaked by government mouthpiece Fresh News.

Since the closure, the Tax Department filed a legal complaint accusing its founder and two directors of obstructing the tax process and tax evasion, which could see them face up to six years in prison.

It also issued a travel ban for Daily General Manager Douglas Steele, and his personal bank account was frozen, along with the bank accounts connected to the Daily’s NGO, World Assistance for Cambodia.

Tax Department chief Kong Vibol was unavailable for comment yesterday, while his deputy Vann Puthipol claimed he “was not in charge of this issue”, despite heading the legal complaint, according to court documents.

Krisher-Steele stressed the NGO had no tax dispute and that the lack of access to funds jeopardised jobs for 120 Khmer staff, English and computer classes for 3,000 students, scholarships and mentorships for 600 rural schoolgirls, and food for 40 foster children, whose parents had died due to AIDS.

“I have a husband who has been taken hostage. I have a newspaper that shut down, but now my concern also is: how am I going to feed the 40 foster children?” Krisher-Steele said.

“People told me not to speak, because it may hurt me to speak . . . keep it all quiet, the way you’re being harassed by the Tax Department … But I can’t really do that, because it’s sort of like being abused and not talking about it.”

“I had no warning – it just came out of the blue . . . I thought I was reading Kafka’s novel.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia rejects UN rights claim

    Cambodia's Permanent Mission to the UN Office in Geneva on Friday hit back at David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression after he raised concerns over the repression of free speech and

  • Snaring may spawn diseases

    The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has warned that snaring of animals has become a crisis that poses a serious risk to wildlife in Southeast Asia and could spawn the transmission of zoonotic diseases to humans. Its July 9 report entitled Silence of the Snares: Southeast Asia’

  • Ex-party leader, gov’t critic named as secretary of state

    A former political party leader known for being critical of the government has been appointed secretary of state at the Ministry of Rural Development, a royal decree dated July 9 said. Sourn Serey Ratha, the former president of the Khmer Power Party (KPP), told The Post

  • Residence cards set for over 80,000 immigrants

    The Ministry of Interior plans to grant residence cards to more than 80,000 immigrants to better keep track of them. The ministry announced the plan on July 10, following the results of an immigration census. “An inter-ministerial committee and many operational working groups have been set up

  • Kingdom produces PPE gear

    Medical supplies from Cambodia have been donated to member countries of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to assist in the fight against Covid-19, said an ADB report published on July 9. The report stated that the supplies were donated as a response to global efforts to

  • Kingdom, US vow stronger ties

    At an academic forum on Saturday to celebrate 70 years of Cambodia-US diplomatic ties, Cambodian researchers and officials expressed hope of encouraging US investments and for that country to deepen and improve its bilateral relations. Held at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, it reviewed the past 70

  • Fifteen Cambodians from Saudi get Covid-19

    The Ministry of Health on Sunday confirmed 15 more imported cases of Covid. The 15 men ‒ all Cambodian aged 21 to 33 ‒ arrived from Saudi Arabia on Friday via a connecting flight in Malaysia. They were travelling with 79 other passengers, three of them women. The ministry said 80 of the

  • Ministry requests school opening

    The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport on Thursday said it would request a decision from Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow a small number of schools to reopen next month. Ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha said if the request is granted, higher-standard schools will reopen

  • Kingdom eyes India FTA, China deal set for August

    Cambodia is studying the possibility of establishing a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with India to open a new market with the second-largest regional economy. This comes as an FTA with China is scheduled to be signed next month while similar negotiations with South Korea

  • Judge lands in court after crashing into alleged thief

    Sen Sok district police on Thursday sent a Koh Kong Provincial Court judge to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on manslaughter charges after he crashed his car into a woman riding a motorbike on Wednesday, killing her. District police chief Hour Meng Vang told The