Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Press threats rise as King takes a hammering

Press threats rise as King takes a hammering

Press threats rise as King takes a hammering

A spate of reported attacks on Khmer editors and publishers has prompted Cambodia's

two journalist associations to call either for finding the culprits or recommend

members tone down attacks on the Royal family. Both claim that the attacks are politically

motivated.

A Ministry of Information source also recommends softening coverage of the Monarchy,

but claims that his hands are tied so long as Royal family members are involved in

the political arena. He discounts charges that attacks are the work of rival political

parties.

League of Cambodian Journalists (LCJ) president Chum Kanal says death threats against

journalists have increased since last year and has issued a "request" letter

to the King, Chea Sim and the two Prime Ministers beseeching them to protect journalists

from danger.

Kanal said that several publishers including himself and his son have repeatedly

received death threats in recent months.

On 7 February Sam Sari, publisher of Serey Pheap Khmer [New Khmer Liberty] newspaper,

reported being shot at from a distance when he and his wife and child were going

to breakfast in a Phnom Penh market.

The four assailants escaped in a car when the publisher and family fled into a crowd,

he said.

The publisher said he had received threats after printing only four issues of the

paper.

On the same day, on Street 51 near the Pasteur Institute, two unidentified men on

motorcycles fired two bullets at Pkay Prik (Morning Star) newspaper editor Sor Savan.

The two bullets narrowly missed his ear, according to a 9 February report sent to

the LCJ.

"So far, police have never arrested any attackers on our journalists and it

still continues and goes up and up," said Kanal.

Assailants operate in small groups, some visiting publishers at their homes and some

following them in the street, he said, alleging: "The threats are conducted

by persons from any political party who don't want freedom of expression."

Death threats have been on the increase since March last year, when most papers reported

on the Funcinpec party congress and exiled Prince Norodom Sirivudh. Things had calmed

down late last year but had increased recently, Kanal said.

The rise in threats to journalists follows a marked pattern of increased criticism

- often with great vitriol - of the King and Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh

in some newspapers in recent months, according to close observers of the Khmer press.

Khmer Journalist Association (KJA) president Pin Samkhon said newspaper attacks on

the King are wrong because the King has to be put above the law and has no power

to retaliate.

"Journalists should meet the King directly before they publish articles about

the King or the Royal family and they had better arrange an appointment to meet him

directly," he said.

Samkhon said he assumes journalists would be accepted to meet the King if they wished.

"I think journalists may have more chances to meet the King because His Majesty

is not as vicious as in the old days. Now he fully supports democracy, not like before

when no-one [could] speak against the King."

He charges that published attacks on the King are from a group of Khmer republicans

who support the CPP. "If journalists talk about politics and they have no evidence,

it shows it is merely a political party-supported paper not a real newspaper,"

he added.

Secretary of State of the Ministry of Information Khieu Kanharith (CPP) claimed that

some royalists have threatened the lives of republican journalists, but that the

newspapers have resumed publishing without any problems. The Ministry has requested

those editors to lower the tone of their attacks on the King.

Some newspapers critical of the King had told him that they based their articles

on newspapers from the republican Lon Nol time, "but I told them at that time

every one stood against the King...it was acceptable then," he says.

He claimed the reason that the newspapers criticize the King is for symbolic reasons.

"They say the essence of the royalty is Funcinpec and many people are fighting

that party so they fight the King," he says. "Funcinpec uses the King as

their symbol, that's why from time to time the king has to take the hit.

"[But] for us it would be crazy to go against the King's wishes in this regard.

That's why we have chosen to advise republican newspapers not to keep up their strong

attacks on the king."

Kanharith denied political party funding of newspapers with anti-royal tendencies.

"Republican newspapers are not CCP funded they are funded by Khmer-Americans,"

he charged. "Ninety-five percent of Cambodians in America are republicans."

He played down the severity of the situation, hinting that some of the attacks may

have been exaggerations and even possibly fabrications.

A Feb 19 letter sent to the King, National Assembly chairman Chea Sim and the two

Prime Ministers from the LCJ listed a total of nine journalists who have reportedly

been threatened recently.

The letter ends on a somber tone: "The words 'Happy New Year' and the sound

of 'good wishes for the new year' are just about to disappear. Three journalists

have been welcomed by blood. So what about from now until the end of 1997? Who can

guess what? How many more will be killed?"

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