Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Stock photo company apologises for offering S-21 inmate photos for sale

Stock photo company apologises for offering S-21 inmate photos for sale

Cham women view a display of prisoner intake photos at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. A stock photo company on Monday apologised for offering S-21 prisoner photos for sale. AFP
Cham women view a display of prisoner intake photos at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. A stock photo company on Monday apologised for offering S-21 prisoner photos for sale. AFP

Stock photo company apologises for offering S-21 inmate photos for sale

An international stock photo company has apologised for selling the rights to prisoner intake photos from Phnom Penh’s infamous Khmer Rouge-era S-21 torture centre, with a company representative saying he was unaware of restrictions on the images’ use and that he was “very sorry if this has caused distress”.

The companies’ sale of the images first came to light last Thursday after regional publication Mekong Review called attention to UK-based photo company Alamy and US-based Sprague Photo Stock selling the digital rights to dozens of photographs from inside the walls of S-21, including portraits of individual prisoners.

For many Cambodian families, these portraits are the only clue linking them to the eventual fate of their loved ones. Nearly all those who entered S-21, also known as Tuol Sleng, never saw freedom again. By the end of the regime, most were taken to Choeung Ek to be killed. That the companies would seek to profit from this tragic history – and the fact that the rights to the photos actually belong to the Cambodian government – raised ethical questions surrounding their use among observers.

As of Friday, both companies appeared to be in the process of removing these photos from their websites – likely in response to inquiries from The Post. At the time that story ran, the companies had not responded to multiple requests for comment.

On Monday, Sean Sprague, of the Sprague Photo Stock library, apologised via email for offering the photos for sale.

I am the "guilty party" who took those photos at Tuol Sleng some ten years ago. I had no idea at the time that there were restrictions as to their use, and thus some of them were placed in my photo stock library as well as at Alamy photo stock.

I am very sorry if this has caused distress and that now there is a "conversation taking place and gaining traction" around this issue, in Cambodia.

I want to say first of all that I have the deepest respect for the Cambodian people and what they have been through during the years of the Khmer Rouge. I have been visiting the country many times since 1966 when I made my first visit, and the last thing I would want to do is cause any offence. By including those photos on my website I was more intent on drawing attention to those terrible years.

But I understand now that it is a copyright issue and that I had no right to try to "sell" those images on a photo stock website, without the express permission of Tuol Sleng museum.

The photographs have now been withdrawn, as you noticed, so I hope this is the end of the matter.

Sean Sprague was not the only photographer credited with such prisoner images on Alamy’s website. Alamy has yet to issue a response of its own.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh’s Jet’s Container Night Market shuts down

    The famous Jet’s Container Night Market in central Phnom Penh has shut down due to the high cost of the land rental, company representatives claim. Jet’s Container Night Market is the largest such market in Phnom Penh. It operated for just over two

  • Hun Sen rejects ‘rift’ rumours spread by ‘stupid gangsters’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday denied a “rift” among top leaders of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), and rejected claims that Senate president Say Chhum and Interior Minister Sar Kheng were set to be removed from their positions as rumours spread by “gangsters”.

  • EU ambassador to Cambodia: Rights a ‘work in progress’

    The EU ambassador to Cambodia has called human rights “a work in progress” and said the 28-nation bloc has “carefully” noted last week’s statement by the government on taking further steps to strengthen democracy and the political sphere in the Kingdom. The EU marked

  • Assembly passes amendment to Political Party Law Article 45

    The National Assembly on Thursday unanimously approved a proposed amendment to Article 45 of the Law on Political Parties in a move that could pave the way for former senior opposition leaders banned for five years to return to the political stage. As expected, the 115 ruling