A raft of anonymous letters and articles critical of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and other NGOs funded by the United States was published by government-aligned Fresh News over the weekend, which one NGO head described as an “avalanche” of misinformation intended to create uncertainty and confusion.
Last week, materials from NDI were leaked online from a training session it conducted for the Cambodia National Rescue Party in March, prompting government officials and Fresh News to accuse the group of political bias, of assisting the opposition to overthrow the government and of failing to register with the Ministry of Interior as an NGO.
The attacks on NDI continued over the weekend, when at least six articles were posted on Fresh News calling into question the intentions of USAID-funded NGOs, such as NDI, the National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House and others – saying the State Department body was creating “hybrid NGOs” tasked with toeing a political agenda aligned with American foreign policy.
“Not only these, there are other NGOs who also will want to create a colour revolution and topple the government like they have successfully in other countries,” read a letter penned by an anonymous writer “Chaksmok Chao”.
A companion video was circulated online with images of the Syrian civil war and NDI’s documents, with the narrator reading out the same text.
Another article, written by “So Kongchey”, alleged that NGOs were reporting rights violations only to further their causes or as a jumping-off point to start a political career – naming CNRP President Kem Sokha, who used to work at Cambodian Center for Human Rights. Posted last night, the same person said Cambodia would no longer be a “paradise for civil society” after the signing of the controversial Law on Associations and NGOs, which would limit their “anarchic” activities.
In recent weeks similar posts on the news site have coincided with official action taken against NGOs Comfrel, Adhoc and Licadho, which have each been summonsed for meetings with the Tax Department.
Naly Pilorge, deputy director for advocacy at rights group Licadho, said the government-aligned media outlet’s “intensifying attacks” about topics that are administrative in nature are concerning. She said it would not only result in a reassessment from civil society of their activities but could have wider implications among the public.
“This intense avalanche of articles recently may cause uncertainty and confusion among Cambodians who are shown partial or distorted information about complicated issues instead of building trust and transparency amongst the government, public and private sector, and civil society,” she said.