The opposition leaning Khmer Machas Srok newspaper yesterday resumed publishing after a nearly two-year hiatus stemming from the imprisonment of its publisher for defamation and disinformation in June 2009.
Although the paper will continue its support for the Sam Rainsy Party and criticism of the government, it is independent and not under the control of any political party or powerful clique, Hang Chakra, publisher of Khmer Machas Srok, said yesterday.
“We still keep the same stance of constructive criticism. Previously, they always said my newspaper is an ‘opposition newspaper’. Thank you for saying this,” Hang Chakra said.
“In fact, my newspaper is independent. There is no budget from anyone supporting me, it is my family’s budget.”
The top stories in yesterday’s paper, he said, covered comments by Sam Rainsy on his convictions, former Khmer Civilisation Foundation head Moeung Sonn calling for the Appeal Court to open Sam Rainsy’s case soon and allow him to return to Cambodia and protests against Boeung Kak lake evictions in Phnom Penh.
“I criticise the government but I have never regarded the government as my enemy. I criticise the government in order to build,” Hang Chakra said. “I am not scared of anything, I have been in jail.”
Hang Chakra was convicted in June 2009 of defamation and disinformation for articles published in Khmer Machas Srok and sentenced to one year prison and fined 9 million riel (US$2,229).
The decision was upheld by the Appeal Court that August.
Hang Chakra had published articles alleging that officials working for Deputy Prime Minister Sok An had been involved in corruption.
The Government filed a complaint alleging that the articles could affect political stability.
King Norodom Sihamoni granted Hang Chakra a royal pardon in April 2010.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said yesterday he welcomed the return of Khmer Machas Srok.
He said the government wanted newspapers to report responsibly, provide honest information and respect leaders. He warned however that newspapers will be prosecuted if they violate the press law.
“We welcome every criticism, but attacking, lying, duping, insulting we do not accept,” Phay Siphan said.
Senior Investigator for the local rights group Adhoc Chan Soveth said although there are plenty of newspapers in Cambodia, true freedom of expression is not practiced widely. He urged the media to write freely and without fear.
He added that Phay Siphan’s warning about the press law would encourage journalists to avoid writing that is not grounded in reality.
Surya Subedi, the United Nations special rapporteur for human rights, has urged the Cambodian Government to decriminalise defamation.