Cambodia condemns VICE for images by Irish artist adding smiles to Khmer Rouge victims


The Cambodian government has 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.

In the article published on Friday, Irish 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 Mr Loughrey’s colour images. The VICE article did not contain the original images.

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

We urge researchers, artists and the public not to manipulate any historical source to respect the victims

Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture issued a statement calling on Mr 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.

Online petition

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

VICE also did not respond to a request for comment but on Sunday added an editor’s note, before the article later disappeared from the site.

“It has been brought to our attention that the restored portraits published in this article were modified beyond colorization. We are reviewing the article and considering further actions to correct the record,” it said.

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, compared the alterations to rewriting history. An online petition demanding the article be removed gained thousands of signatures.

At least 1.7 million Cambodians died in the extremist Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979.

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