Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ministry of Information defends press crackdown to UN

Ministry of Information defends press crackdown to UN

Issues of the Cambodia Daily stacked at a newsstand in Phnom Penh before the newspaper closed shop in September following a $6 million tax dispute.
Issues of the Cambodia Daily stacked at a newsstand in Phnom Penh before the newspaper closed shop in September following a $6 million tax dispute. Pha Lina

Ministry of Information defends press crackdown to UN

Cambodia’s Ministry of Information has defended as legitimate its recent crackdown on independent press outlets, calling it a “warning to all media” in a missive to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations that appears to have been made public accidentally.

The document, dated November 23, addresses the recent closure of 21 radio stations broadcasting Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and opposition party programming, ostensibly over licensing issues, as well as the shuttering of the Cambodia Daily over a $6 million tax dispute.

Versions of the document were posted in the past two days to the homepage of the ministry’s website, as well as to the website of its press agency, Agence Kampuchea Press, only to be removed yesterday following an inquiry from a Post reporter.

Formatted as responses to questions posed by the UN, the ministry maintains the government did not use the law as a means to restrict or shut down independent media. It also denied that the radio stations had been closed without warning.

“In fact, freedom of the press and freedom of publication is really widely open up and has been assured by the Constitution and relevant laws, as we can see through [the] growing … number of media and the progress of the information and broadcasting sector in Cambodia,” the document reads.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Cambodia Daily staffers stand with placards bearing the slogan ‘Save the Daily’ at their Phnom Penh office. Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily

All of the outlets targeted were among the few that are openly critical of the government, and the timing of the closures raised eyebrows as well, coming in the midst of a crackdown on the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.

The party was dissolved this month over allegations it was fomenting a foreign-backed “revolution”, and leaked government documents show officials sought to link several of the outlets named to the purported plot.

Meanwhile, two former RFA reporters are currently facing charges of “espionage” for allegedly filing reports to their former employer, which they have denied.

In its explanation, the ministry said that some of the stations whose licences were revoked had violated their contracts with the ministry and did not seek authorisation to rent their airtime. According to the ministry, despite many reminders, the licence owners never took action.

It further claims that its order that local stations stop renting airtime to RFA and VOA was because the media outlets were not registered with the ministry. RFA has said it made efforts to register, but that the ministry never responded to its request.

VOA could not be reached yesterday. The ministry characterised the closures as “a warning to all media” and said “there is no condition that the revoked licences can be renewed or reissued”.

In going after the Daily, the ministry wrote, the government was simply implementing the tax law, although observers and newspaper owner Deborah Krisher-Steele have challenged the astronomical $6.3 million bill for back taxes and fees as exorbitant.

Mahmoud Garga, spokesman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, said the document appeared to be “in response to a communication sent by Special Rapporteurs of the [UN] Human Rights Council”.

“Communications sent and State replies received usually remain confidential until they are published in Communications Reports submitted to each regular session of the Human Rights Council, in this case in March 2018,” he said via email.

Ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng declined to comment, and referred questions to Phos Sovann, director-general of the ministry’s Department of Information and Broadcasting, who was unreachable.

Updated: Wednesday, 29 November 6:58am

This story has been updated with the correct number of radio stations recently closed by the government, and to state that they were shut down for not registering with the Ministry of Information.

MOST VIEWED

  • Hong Kong firm done buying Coke Cambodia

    Swire Coca-Cola Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Swire Pacific Ltd, on November 25 announced that it had completed the acquisition of The Coca-Cola Co’s bottling business in Cambodia, as part of its ambitions to expand into the Southeast Asian market. Swire Coca-Cola affirmed

  • Cambodia's Bokator now officially in World Heritage List

    UNESCO has officially inscribed Cambodia’s “Kun Lbokator”, commonly known as Bokator, on the World Heritage List, according to Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona in her brief report to Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of November 29. Her report, which was

  • NagaWorld union leader arrested at airport after Australia trip

    Chhim Sithar, head of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees at NagaWorld integrated casino resort, was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia. Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge

  • Takeo hand-woven silk items provide local high-quality alternative to imports

    After graduating from university and beginning her career as a civil servant at the the Ministry of Economy and Finance, Khieu Sina found time to establish a business that aligns with her true passion – quality hand-woven Khmer goods. Her product line, known as Banteay Srei,

  • Sub-Decree approves $30M for mine clearance

    The Cambodian government established the ‘Mine-Free Cambodia 2025 Foundation’, and released an initial budget of $30 million. Based on the progress of the foundation in 2023, 2024 and 2025, more funds will be added from the national budget and other sources. In a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen

  • Two senior GDP officials defect to CPP

    Two senior officials of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) have asked to join the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), after apparently failing to forge a political alliance in the run-up to the 2023 general election. Yang Saing Koma, chairman of the GDP board, and Lek Sothear,