THE anti-royalist newspaper Republic News has been spared official sanction, for
now at least, amid hints of divisions within the Ministry of Information and concern
from the Royal family.
The Secretary of State for the ministry, Khieu Kanharith on July 12 officially cleared
the newspaper - which takes a strong position against King Norodom Sihanouk - to
resume publication. One reason cited by Kanharith was the King's public position,
most recently expressed in a July 2 communiqué seeking the freedom of a jailed
editor, that clemency be shown to journalists who criticize national leaders.
"I understand the Ministry's principle that it doesn't like to sue newspapers,
and that the King said he doesn't [want to] punish journalists," Kanharith told
the Post on why a ministry defamation case against Republic News had been dropped.
Kanharith, asked whether he had disagreed with the ministry's initial action against
the newspaper, said he had no comment.
Minister of Information Ieng Mouly - who signed a suspension order against Republic
News in February - confirmed that the paper's publisher, Lim Rattana, would now face
no action, saying: "We sued Lim Rattana but now we will let him print again...
the King's July 2 message said not to sue journalists so we withdrew [the lawsuit]."
He added that four months had passed since the defamation complaint was filed, and
the Municipal Court had suggested it was now too late to pursue the matter.
Mouly said Republic News would have to abide by a proposed sub-decree covering newspapers,
and could be sued again if it broke the law.
Earlier, Queen Monineath and the King's son, First Prime Minister Prince Norodom
Ranariddh, had sought an explanation from Mouly on whether the newspaper had the
right to continue attacking the King.
Observers suggested their action was at odds with the King's long-standing assertion
that journalists who criticize him should not be punished, but Mouly and Ranariddh's
Cabinet were quick to deny any Royal pressure on the government for Republic News
to be sued.
One observer said, in reference to the CPP, that the newspaper's anti-Monarchy views
were likely to be shared by certain politicians.
Republic News, which first appeared on newsstands last year, promotes the memory
of Lon Nol, who overthrew Sihanouk and abolished the monarchy in 1970. The newspaper
bears a photograph of Lon Nol and the flag of his regime.
The paper's legal saga began on Feb 12 when Mouly ordered Republic News suspended
for 30 days - and said any resumption of publication was a matter for the court to
decide - in the first such case under the new press law.
The law permits the ministry to suspend papers for 30 days if they are considered
to have breached "national security" or "political stability"
- both terms undefined.
Mouly also cited Cambodia's Constitution, which says the King is "inviolable".
Lawyers note that the Constitution contains no penalties for the breach of this provision.
On March 3, Government Attorney Kao Bun Hong filed a complaint to the Municipal Court
alleging Lim Rattana had defamed and libeled the King, violating the Constitution
and "affecting" the monarchy. He sought the permanent closure of Republic
News and the fining of its editor.
The defiant Rattana later responded with a counter-suit alleging the ministry had
No court order was issued extending the 30-day suspension but the newspaper voluntarily
remained silent till June 18, when it burst into print with an edition which included
historic photographs of Sihanouk meeting Khmer Rouge leaders.
Mouly responded the same day with a request to the Ministry of Interior to confiscate
copies of the edition and "warn" Lim Rattana and his newspaper's printer.
Interior officials reportedly did not act on the request.
Meanwhile, the League of Cambodian Journalists (LCJ) - whose members include pro-CPP
newspapers - entered the fray to mediate between Republic News and the Ministry of
That culminated in a July 2 agreement that the ministry and Republic News would stop
suing each other, and the paper would resume publication but would tone down its
Royal attacks, according to LCJ president Chum Kanal.
Within days the ministry announced it was dropping its lawsuit, and Khieu Kanharith
subsequently gave his permission in writing for the newspaper to resume publication.
Queen Monineath, however, wrote to her daughter Princess Arunrasmy asking her to
"discreetly" investigate whether the newspaper was allowed to "keep
on attacking the King." Ranariddh forwarded the Queen's inquiry to Mouly in
an "urgent and important" note which sought an explanation.
Ly Thuch, Ranariddh's Cabinet chief, said: "It is clear that Prince Ranariddh
fully supports the freedom of the press but has requested that the press be professional
and responsible and respect Constitutional law concerning the King."
Asked what would happen if the newspaper continued to criticize the King, Thuch said
the Ministry of Information's duty was to implement the law.
Mouly said the ministry would again warn Rattana and, though a lawsuit was still
possible if the editor did not change his ways, preferred to settle the matter by
Rattana, meanwhile, was unrepentant, declaring that his newspaper would remain much
the same, though he might tone down its writings a little. "I love the Lon Nol
regime," he said. "The Republic regime was the regime to first bring democracy
to Cambodia. Now I stand on the democratic line... If the King has an idea to take
over power, it means that my newspaper is against him".
Opposition to Republic News has centered on its logo - the Lon Nol regime's flag
- and its outspokenness against King Sihanouk.
The July 18 edition - the first since its suspension - featured three old photographs
on its front-page. The first was of two Khmer Serey (Free Khmer) activists tied to
poles before, according to the caption, being killed for being "traitors".
The photograph was taken during the then Prince Sihanouk's Sangkum regime in the
1960s. The other photographs were of Sihanouk posing with KR leaders, including Pol
Pot, during a visit to the "liberated zones" of the anti-Lon Nol resistance
in the early 1970s.
Rattana said his aim in running the photographs was to recall some of Cambodia's
history in a "real" and graphic manner. He said Republic News' content
was covered by the Constitutional right to freedom of expression and freedom of press.