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Newspaper suspended for refusing to publish ministry's version of event

(SEAPA/IFEX) - The Cambodian Ministry of Information has suspended for a month the "Khmer Amatak" newspaper for refusing to publish a correction the ministry requested over a controversial article in the newspaper.

The article, published on 24 September 2007, said that two senior officials from the ruling Funcinpec party, Secretary General Nhiek Bun Chhay and Minister of State Serey Kosal, had removed the name of former Funcinpec president Prince Norodom Ranariddh from a school he donated to the Battambang province, and had replaced it with that of Deputy Prime Minister Nhiek Bun Chhay.

The deputy prime minister and the Ministry of Information had asked the newspaper to publish a correction. However, the newspaper's director, Bun Tha, said he had evidence to support the article's claim and had dared the deputy prime minister to bring the case to court. Instead, on 8 October, the ministry suspended the newspaper's licence.

The Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists (CAPJ), a SEAPA partner, considers this a dispute between "Khmer Amatak" and the deputy prime minister. In a 9 October statement, CAPJ said the problem should be resolved in court in accordance with the existing Press Law.

"By issuing an order to have this newspaper suspended for a month without the court's consent, the [ministry] has clearly sided with [the deputy prime minister], thus violating . . . freedom of the press in Cambodia," CAPJ said.

SEAPA joins CAPJ in appealing for a reversal to the ministry's decision. In punishing the newspaper for sticking to its story, the Cambodian government is depriving its citizens of an important channel of expression and information for a whole month. This is in conflict with Article 31 of the country's Constitution as well as the nation's obligation as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which provide for freedom of expression.

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