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Opposition Editor Apologizes After Government Complaint

The editor of a small opposition newspaper says he has apologized to the government for a story he ran on the anniversary of the July 1997 coup, after the Ministry of Information moved to legal action against him.

“I have decided to make a correction, which means publishing a full letter from the Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith and an apology,” Bun Tha, who publishes the Khmer Amata newspaper, said Thursday.

He will apologize for the use of the word “coup” and for a reference to the Vietnamese “installment” of the government, Bun Tha said.

In a letter dated July 12, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, requested the court to take legal action for disinformation, claiming the article could confuse the public and was published to destroy the efforts of government leaders to protect the country.

Bun Tha said earlier he had been afraid for his safety after the ministry letter.

“I have a feeling of being worried about my personal safety, because such a complaint is from the government, not from an individual,” Bun Tha told VOA Khmer.

Cambodia’s courts have come under increased scrutiny of politicization in recent months. The head of the UN’s human rights office said in Geneva this week she was concerned a court case against Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua demonstrated diminished freedoms and judicial rights.

Khmer Amata is a little-known newspaper that was once aligned with Prince Norodom Ranariddh, when he ran the coalition royalist party Funcinpec. Earlier this month, the newspaper ran a story to mark the July 5 anniversary of the 1997 coup, in which the CPP seized power from Funcinpec in two days of bloody fighting.

Ou Virak, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the complaint was another move toward the elimination of opposition newspapers and a threat to press freedoms.

“Without opposition newspapers, people will not receive full information,” he said.

The ministry letter comes at a time when the opposition press has dwindled significantly in the face of court action. Cambodia’s media environment this year was ranked “not free” by the international monitor Freedom House.