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Cambodia Daily calls government action ‘assault’ on the press

Traffic passes in front of the General Department of Taxation office in Phnom Penh.
Traffic passes in front of the General Department of Taxation office in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Cambodia Daily calls government action ‘assault’ on the press

The Cambodia Daily yesterday said it was under “siege” and continued to call the government’s targeting of the newspaper an attack on press freedom, as five radio station owners that had been ordered to shut shop attempted to resume their services.

The English-language daily was slapped with a purported $6.3 million tax bill this month after the Tax Department said it had failed to pay taxes for a 10-year period starting in 2006. The issue escalated after the department’s director-general, Kong Vibol, and Prime Minister Hun Sen gave the newspaper’s management a September 4 deadline to pay up or shut down.

Yesterday’s Daily statement contested the Tax Department’s use of a 20 percent profit tax on revenue to calculate the bill, despite the paper running at a loss. It also took umbrage with the leak of its tax bill to government mouthpiece Fresh News, calling for an investigation into the release of documents that are meant to be confidential.

“Today, the Daily is under siege. The massive bill the government has handed us is an assault on press freedom thinly disguised as a tax dispute,” said Deborah Krisher-Steele, deputy publisher of the Cambodia Daily.

The Daily also released all the correspondence between it and the Tax Department and Information Ministry, including an August 20 letter from its founder, Bernard Krisher, to Hun Sen asking for his intervention in the matter.

At the same time, Yi Chorvon, owner of recently shuttered Moha Nokor radio, said five owners representing seven stations submitted a joint letter requesting resumption of services, following an August 21 notice asking 15 stations to cease their operations.

“It is our joint initiative among the shut down radio stations,” Chorvon said. “We will operate and abide by the instructions of the ministry.”

The Information Ministry had denied the closures were aimed at targeting independent broadcasters – such as Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, which were disproportionately affected – but had to do with their failure to inform the ministry of airtime sold.

The moves against media outlets coincided with the shuttering of USAID-funded pro-democracy NGO National Democratic Institute (NDI) for violating the controversial Law on Associations and NGOs for failing to register with the Foreign Ministry and Tax Department.

Following a slew of condemnations, USAID yesterday said it was “deeply disappointed” with the decision to shut NDI and expel its foreign staff from the country.

“We urge the Government of Cambodia to reverse its decision so that NDI can continue its work to ensure the 2018 National Elections give equal voice to all of Cambodia’s people,” said Clayton McCleskey, acting spokesperson for the State Department run USAID.

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