(New York) - The Cambodian government should stop protecting Burma’s junta from foreign press scrutiny by lifting the ban on copies of the Burma Daily, a new English-language insert in the Cambodia Daily newspaper, Human Rights Watch said today.
The Burma Daily was launched on May 16 as a four-page insert in the Cambodia Daily and carried primarily English-language wire service reports about Burma and Cyclone Nargis, which struck on May 2-3, killing tens of thousands. With the publication of its second edition on May 19, the Cambodian Ministry of Information illegally ordered police to remove copies of the Burma Daily from newsstands.
The newspaper’s suspension comes ahead of a May 25 “pledging” conference in Rangoon organized by the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a 10-country bloc that includes Cambodia, to address Burma’s reconstruction and how to deliver aid to cyclone victims. ASEAN operates by consensus, so any country, including Burma or Cambodia, can stop coordinated action by the grouping that insists Burma open up to aid and humanitarian workers.
“Cambodia’s press censorship on behalf of Burma’s abusive military government is shameless,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “When ASEAN members like Cambodia go to bat for Burma’s generals, it makes it hard to believe that the association will genuinely lean on Burma to allow international aid for desperate cyclone survivors.”
Cambodia Daily publisher Bernard Krisher, who said he launched the Burma Daily only temporarily as an insert in the Cambodia Daily before launching it as an online publication at www.burmadaily.org, announced on May 21 that the Burma Daily would no longer appear in the Cambodia Daily. At present, the online version has articles only until May 21.
In a speech on Cambodian national television last December after Burma’s crackdown on widespread protests, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen criticized the United Nations for “opposing and putting pressure” on Burma, rather than letting Burma solve its own problems. “Now, Burma has proceeded smoothly, but they go and disturb it again,” Hun Sen said.
On May 21, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith threatened to file a legal complaint against the Cambodia Daily for launching the Burma Daily without obtaining government permission. Kanharith stated that the Burma Daily could negatively affect relations with Burma, according to the Cambodia Daily. Despite the prohibition on the English-language insert, Kanharith has publicly stated that the government will allow the Cambodia Daily – which has been registered with the government since 1993 – to cover news about Burma in its regular international section.
Cambodia’s 1995 Press Law requires new publications to submit names and addresses of their editor and printing house to the Ministry of Information and authorizes the government to ban, suspend, or confiscate publications deemed to violate “national security and political stability.” While publications that do not file applications with the Information Ministry are subject to fines, the Press Law does not specify that such publications are illegal or subject to confiscation.
Outspoken editors and journalists in Cambodia are regularly threatened, subject to physical attacks, or even assassinated. The government also periodically confiscates, bans, or suspends controversial publications. In 2007, the Khmer Amatak newspaper was suspended for refusing to retract a story alleging that political rivals of Funcinpec party leader Norodom Ranariddh had removed his name from a school. Publications that were confiscated by authorities in 2007 included a report by Global Witness, an international environmental advocacy group that alleged government complicity in illegal logging, and Free Press Magazine, a Cambodian-language publication that carried articles critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Cambodian authorities have recently threatened Buddhist monks with eviction from their pagodas or deportation to Vietnam for circulating bulletins published by the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation (KKKF), an organization that advocates for the rights of Khmer Krom people (ethnic Khmer originally from southern Vietnam). One of the allegations against Khmer Krom monk Tim Sakhorn, who was arrested and deported from Cambodia in June 2007 and subsequently jailed in Vietnam, was that he had circulated copies of the KKKF bulletin.
“The Cambodian government has a sad tradition of using its press law and other tactics to silence criticism not only of Hun Sen and other top leaders, but of neighbouring countries with which Cambodia has strong economic and political ties,” said Adams.
While foreign-language publications in Cambodia have generally been more immune to threats of confiscation or closure, in 2007 the owners of the French-language daily Cambodge Soir buckled to government pressure by firing the paper’s Cambodian news editor for publishing an article about the Global Witness logging report. The paper’s management decided to close the paper after staff went on strike to protest the editor’s dismissal, reopening several months later with a much less critical editorial tone.