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Government confiscates new magazine over critical articles; fearing arrest, editor and distribution director go into hiding

(SEAPA/IFEX) - The Cambodian Ministry of Information has confiscated a new magazine for allegedly violating the constitutional provision protecting the monarchy, though local reports said other "sensitive" articles featured in the magazine could have triggered the action.

Authorities in the capital city and Battambang province seized all 2,000 copies of the inaugural issue of monthly "Free Press Magazine" when it was distributed on 2 November 2007. Fearing arrest, the magazine's editor-in-chief Lem Piseth and distribution director Heu Chantha have been in hiding since then, according to the Phnom Penh-based Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

Information Minister Khieu Kannarith said the magazine featured an article by Dr. Lao Monghai which challenged former king Norodom Sihanouk's immunity from being called as a witness or tried at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), established to secure justice for victims of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime that reigned from 1975 to 1979. The minister said the article is against the constitution, which states that the King "shall be inviolable".

The cover picture is a cartoon of Prime Minister Hun Sen brandishing a stick at a terrified ECCC representative, shouting, "You touch our King, we'll kick your ass out of Cambodia!" while sitting on a chair marked "CCP" (the ruling Cambodian People's Party), behind which Sihanouk is cowering.

The magazine also featured a poem critical of Hun Sen and articles about sensitive political and human rights issues; the mysterious murder of cultural icon and screen idol Piseth Pilika in 1999, who allegedly had an affair with Hun Sen; a documentary about the assassination of Chea Vichea, the former president of Free Trade Union of Workers, in 2004; as well as threats and violations against journalists.

Khieu Kannarith said the magazine, sponsored by the US-based Cambodian Action Committee for Justice and Equity, also violated the law by not publishing the name of its editor-in-chief as stated in its application form, according to CCHR.

Information Department Director Yem Noy reportedly said the department and ministry are not closing the magazine as that action is the court's to take.

"Free Press Magazine" editor-in-chief Lem Piseth was an RFA reporter who fled to Thailand in June after he received death threats for reporting extracts of a banned report by Global Witness alleging illegal logging by high-ranking officials (see IFEX alert of 19 June 2007). He returned to Cambodia on 16 July.

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