Vice apologizes for publishing edited photos of Cambodian genocide victims smiling

Vice media group issued an apology Sunday for publishing the work of an artist who had edited photos of victims of the Khmer Rouge genocide to make them appear as though they were smiling, calling it a "failure of the editorial process."

Vice Asia published an interview with Matt Loughrey on April 9, detailing his work of colorizing photos of prisoners held at the Tuol Sleng prison where they were tortured and interrogated before being sent to the killing fields. Not only were they colorized, but the prisoners' faces had been edited to look as though they were smiling. The article has since been taken down.

Cambodia condemned the altered photos soon after they were published. The Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts said it considered images "to seriously affect the dignity of the victims" and called for them to be taken down on the threat of legal action, according to The Guardian.

"On Friday April 9th, VICE Asia published an interview with Matt Loughrey, an artist working to restore and colorize images from Security Prison 21 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which was used by the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 until its fall in 1979. The article included photographs of Khmer Rouge victims that Loughrey manipulated beyond colorization. The story did not meet the editorial standards of VICE and has been removed. We regret the error and will investigate how this failure of the editorial process occurred," the company said in a statement.

In the interview, Loughrey said his work on the photos had begun after someone from Cambodia contacted him to have three photos restored. More requests soon followed. Though some prisoners were already smiling in their photos, Loughrey acknowledged adding smiles to others.

The fine arts ministry said Loughrey's work violated the rights of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum as the lawful owners and custodians of the images, The Guardian reported.

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