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Authorities ban two books deemed critical of government

(SEAPA/IFEX) - Two books which the Cambodian government claimed contained "unsuitable political content" were banned, even as the police purchased copies of the said books in bulk and warned bookstores against selling them in the near future, media reports said.

The "Phnom Penh Post" said Education Minister Im Sethy requested Information Minister Khieu Kanharith in a letter dated 5 July 2010 to ban two review books by Cambodian author Pen Puthsphea because of alleged criticism of the government. Students use these books to review for examinations.

Im Sethy referred to what he described as "unsuitable" passages on pages 146 and 147 of one book and on pages 100 and 101 of the other.

According to the "Phnom Penh Post", the books ask questions like "In the near future, will Cambodia be able to develop? Why?", and "What do you think of the practice of human rights and freedom in Cambodian society?"

The book's answer to the first question is: "The government which is currently led by Prime Minister Hun Sen will not be able to lead Cambodia towards progress in the near future because corruption occurs from the top level of the government down to the local level, and law enforcement and the practice of human rights are still below zero."

The "Phnom Penh Post" quoted author Pen Puthsphea on 13 July as saying that he had intended to highlight "both pro and con ideas" rather than criticize the government.

The newspaper also reported that Ly Neang, owner of a newsstand near the National Institute of Education, claimed that local authorities purchased all the copies of the books in her stock, and warned her against selling any more volumes written by Pen Puthsphea. "The authorities told me that they will confiscate the books if I continue to sell them," she said.

Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said on 14 July that the banning of the books only showed the government's authoritarian tendency.

"It is only two books, but it shows the government wants to limit the freedom of the Cambodian people to build democracy," he said. "It's a totally authoritarian country. Opinion is not tolerated in this society."

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