International condemnation of the government’s aggressive pursuit of a tax dispute with the Cambodia Daily continued to pour in yesterday, with the US Embassy in Phnom Penh calling the closure of the hard-hitting newspaper a “sad day for the press and for Cambodia”.
The Daily was shut down on Monday after a monthlong dispute involving an “exorbitant” $6.3 million tax bill, with Tax Department head Kong Vibol and Prime Minister Hun Sen telling the newspaper to pay up or leave.
The issue escalated on Monday when the Tax Department requested the Immigration Department prevent company Directors Deborah Krisher-Steele and Douglas Steele from leaving the country. Steele could not be reached yesterday.
The US Embassy paid tribute to the Daily as a professional platform for the growth of both local and foreign reporters, while also regretting that the Cambodian government could not provide a solution for the beleaguered newspaper. “The Cambodia Daily connected, informed, and inspired Cambodians and their friends, both here and internationally; with its closure, there is one less window into, and out of, Cambodia,” the Facebook post reads.
Amnesty International also released a statement saying it was “disturbing” how “ruthlessly and quickly” authorities moved to shut down one of the country’s few “independent voices”.
Global Witness said the closure was a heavy blow to tackling systemic corruption and part of a sweeping attack on voices critical of the ruling party and Hun Sen.
“Cambodian newsstands yesterday were emblazoned with the headline ‘Descent into outright dictatorship’ – an apt parting shot for the final edition of the Cambodia Daily, a paper whose motto was ‘all the news, without fear or favour’” the statement reads.