A Sept 2, 2020, file photo shows Norng Chan Phal, who survived internment in a prison during Khmer Rouge rule, looking at portraits of genocide victims.—AFP
A Sept 2, 2020, file photo shows Norng Chan Phal, who survived internment in a prison during Khmer Rouge rule, looking at portraits of genocide victims.—AFP

PHNOM PENH: Cambodia called on US media group VICE to withdraw an article featuring newly colourised photos of the Khmer Rouge “killing fields” victims, saying the images were an insult to the dead because some mugshots had been altered to add smiles.

At 1200 GMT on Sunday, the article later was no longer available on the VICE.com website.

In the article published on Friday, artist Matt Loughrey said his project to colourise images from the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, or S-21, aimed to humanise the 14,000 Cambodians executed and tortured there.

However, the article caused a backlash on social media after comparisons with the original black-and-white photos showed that some subjects were smiling only in Loughrey’s colour images. The VICE article did not contain the original images.

“To play around by using technology to put make-up on the victims of S21 is a very grave insult to the souls of the victims of #genocide,” exiled Cambodian politician Mu Sochua wrote on Twitter.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture issued a statement calling on Loughrey and VICE to remove the images.

“We urge researchers, artists and the public not to manipulate any historical source to resp­ect the victims,” the ministry said.

Loughrey, who in the VICE interview said he had worked with victims’ families to restore the photos, declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2021

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