NGOUN Noun, the editor of the popular Khmer newspaper Morning News, was jailed
after running an article accusing Deputy Prime Minister and Co-Interior Minister
Sar Kheng of being involved in the coup bid - despite volunteering to shut down
Noun also wrote letters of apology to CPP leaders where he
confessed he was at fault and asked for forgiveness. A source at Morning News
said he was pressured into writing the letters.
On July 8 Morning News
printed several photographs of Sar Kheng next to an old photograph of a tank
taking part in a coup in Thailand.
The accompaning story linked Sar Kheng
to an irregular delivery of police uniforms to units based in eastern Prey Veng
where support for the coup organizers was strongest.
Sar Kheng was
quoted by Reuters on July 8 as saying: "I absolutely deny the
While under house arrest on July 8, Noun wrote three letters of
apology asking for mercy which he sent to CPP leaders Co-Prime Minister Hun Sen,
Sar Kheng, and interim Head of State Chea Sim.
The handwritten letters
obtained by the Post read: "Due to the Morning News publishing [an article on
July 8] about the July 2 coup affecting your high credibility and patriotism, I
have honor to request you [Hun Sen] to forgive me for my fault and I will stop
[writing about] all actions concerning the coup, especially stories concerning
"I would like to take this opportunity to say that
because a journalist's career is too arduous to endure I myself have decided to
suspend publishing this newspaper from today onward."
He also said in the
letter that the story had come from a foreign source but he was unable to verify
all of it.
Deputy Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith was quoted by
Voice of America as saying Noun had been charged with creating
Noun has called on Charto, an NGO of Cambodian legal defenders
trained by Untac, to defend his case reported Ahreyathor.
Norind Lakishmy was quoted as saying: "We have evidence to support what we have
written, but we have to protect our sources or we are afraid they will be
"My father wanted to show people the truth. Now we see he has no
right to print the truth," he was reported as saying in the Cambodia Daily on
A reporter from the Morning News, who requested anonymity, said
Noun was forced to write his confession.
He said: "This is not our
mistake, but we have been forced to make it appear that way."
March Noun was detained in T3 prison for two days after running several articles
accusing a provincial governor of corruption.
Noun used to work in the
cabinet office of Prince Ranariddh, and Funcinpec reportedly wanted him to
become a member of the National Assembly. But the plan was dropped after debate
with the CPP in the National Assembly.
Instead of rushing to defend their
jailed colleague, editors at the rival Koh Santhipheap ran a series of articles
mocking the Morning News. They tried to humiliate Noun over his confession and
made fun of him being in jail.
Koh Santipheap said its troubled rival
was pro-Funcinpec and accused it of trying to create instability and of
attempting to split Funcinpec and the CPP.
The reporter at Morning News
denied the claims. He said: "We do not back any person or political party, we
are a private newspaper.
"Koh Santhipheap are scolding us to protect
themselves. They are supported by the CPP. They were offered premises and
printing material for free. We wanted to crack down on corruption."
said Koh Santhipheap was also criticizing Morning News because it was losing
circulation to its rival.
"Our circulation has increased from 100,000 to
500,000 making us the leading Khmer paper," the reporter
Government spokesman Sieng Lapresse was quoted by Reuters as
saying the Morning News article may have breached national security
At a press conference a few hours after Noun's arrest, Interior
Ministry You Hockry appealed to all local and foreign journalists to cooperate
with the government and avoid exaggerated reports which he said could cause
disorder and uprisings.
He said the government is now trying very hard
to bring calm and prevent any more threats to national security.
warned similar measures would be taken against any other media operations which
published stories such as those which appeared in the Morning News.
Interior Minister said he and Sar Kheng did not wish to deny press freedom but
that the aim of the conference was to create better cooperation between the
government and press.
He accused some newspapers of deliberately
criticizing the government to increase their readership. He said the articles
could not be believed as they were often anonymous letters or reports from
"In the name of journalists you have to say the
truth, you are reporters serving the people and the nation, not just your own
business," Hockry said.
He added that false stories accusing foreign
countries of being involved in the coup were souring the relations between her
In fact the Cambodian government had not accused any foreign
governments of backing the coup, Hockry said, but rather the government was
investigating the involvement of foreign people in the plot. The co-interior
minister was referring to 14 Thais held in the wake of the coup bid. He said no
allegations had yet been substantiated.
He said some media, especially
the foreign media were sending out false information.
placed a gag on ministers to stop them talking about the coup bid. On July 8 a
state radio broadcast said: "The Royal Government would like to announce an
absolute ban on all government officials responsible for investigating the
failed coup from providing information to the press without the permission of
the two prime ministers."
The order was to prevent "confusion" about the
reporting of the coup investigation, the announcer said.
of America quoted Information Minister Ieng Mouly as saying that papers should
not publish the names of generals allegedly involved in the coup even if such
allegations were true because it would annoy the generals.
The tension of
being a journalist is beginning to worry many Khmers. One newspaper editor, who
requested anonymity, said he has to work from home and is afraid to go outside
because he fears for his life.
He said: "I'm beginning to turn white
because I haven't seen the sun in several months."
said: "Maybe I will give up my arduous job because whenever I write stories I
get very worried, but being a journalist I have to fulfill my duty."