Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Newsmen in new intimidation claims

Newsmen in new intimidation claims

Newsmen in new intimidation claims

STAFF at Sakal (Universe) complained they were still being intimidated by plain

clothes Funcinpec policemen after the paper had an entire print run and a

reader's letter confiscated for alleged insults to His Majesty King Norodom

Sihanouk.

Director and Editor in Chief Lach Samrong said his journalists

and visitors to the paper's offices were being followed by policemen, who also

often mounted surveillance of the building off Kampuchea Krom

Boulevard.

Khlok Mong, vice editor, added: "They try to follow us on

motorbikes when we leave the office, so we have to try and lose them by driving

fast."

The state action against the newspaper followed the publication of

photos and articles considered insulting to His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk.

The move caused an outcry among human rights organizations, protests

from the Khmer Journalists' Association and the intervention of Justice Michael

Kirby, the UN human rights representative for Cambodia.

In a written

reply to the KJA letter Interior Minister You Hockry said the action was carried

out in accordance with the Constitution which prohibits insults to the

monarchy.

Around 15 Funcinpec policemen burst into the Sakal's offices

and confiscated the second half of a reader's letter as it was being pasted on a

page of the May 13 edition. The page was eventually printed with an empty space

under the masthead with the words "Do you understand".

The twice-weekly

paper, with a circulation of around 18,000 came to the attention of the

authorities with its May 6 edition.

Beside a front page picture of the

King, the newspaper apologized to the monarch but said it was duty-bound to make

criticisms.

Then in its May 10 edition it printed an old picture of King

Sihanouk posing as a revolutionary arm in arm with Khmer Rouge nominal leader

Khieu Samphan. Beside this photo was a picture of the late Lon Nol, the general

who ousted the King in 1970. The headline read: "Listen to the late general's

opinion."

Underneath was a quote: "The Cambodian people have suffered

from the King's iron rule for 20 centuries." Inside was the first half of what

purported to be a reader's letter reminding readers about the monarch's alleged

past misdeeds.

Then, after second half of the letter was confiscated,

the paper again courted controversy in its May 17 edition. It reprinted the

photo of the King with Khieu Samphan together with a headline reading "Why does

the King still have longings for the Khmer Rouge? For national reconciliation or

for peace? All people consider?"

Inside the paper ran a competition

asking readers to provide evidence of who was really leading the KR, with a

first prize of $50.

The entire print run of this paper was confiscated by

police at a print works in the capital.

Samrong, who set up the

newspaper in December 1993 with $1,000, said: "The King said he was for freedom

of the press and I wanted to test how far these freedoms go. I will not be

publishing any more articles which criticize the King."

In You Hockry's

letter the Interior Minister says he acted within his powers. He said that

Samrong had ignored repeated warnings not to insult the King and had broken a

promise that he would cease doing so.

Samrong, 26, said it was not his

intention to insult the King but to remind people of the past. He denied the

paper was slanted towards or funded by the Cambodian People's Party as some have

alleged. Speaking in a personal capacity, Samrong said: "If King Sihanouk is

going to continue his relationship there can be no end to the war."

Ly

Thuch, chief of cabinet to Premier Prince Norodom Ranariddh said he was unable

to comment on allegations of intimidation to journalists at Sakal.

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