Two former Radio Free Asia journalists held a press conference yesterday claiming they are each owed $28,000 by the US-funded radio broadcaster, which shuttered its in-country operations in September amid a government crackdown on independent media.
The journalists, Sok Ratha and Ouk Savborey, maintained they organised the press conference, though questions lingered over the involvement of the Ministry of Information, particularly given the government’s recent contention that RFA was involved in a purported opposition-led “revolution” to topple the government. The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party was dissolved last week over the allegations in a decision that observers equated to the “death of democracy”.
Ratha said he had made a request to US Ambassador William Heidt to help with mediation with the board of directors of RFA on the disbursement of his work benefits following its closure. He said he had waited for his severance pay for more than two months, but so far, he hasn’t been paid.
“I have received information from other reporters who ended their contracts with RFA, just like me, and they have received [severance] money since October, and it’s only me who has not received this . . . money,” he said.
Ratha said he had worked for RFA for 13 years, and according to his calculations, was owed $28,000.
Another former RFA reporter, who asked to remain anonymous, said he had received $28,000 in compensation half a month after RFA’s closure.
David Josar, a spokesman at the US Embassy, confirmed that Ratha had written, but referred further questions to RFA in Washington, DC. Rohit Mahajan, spokesman for RFA, said “it’s our policy, as a private, non-profit company, not to discuss internal personnel and compensation issues”.
Ratha claimed RFA was not paying him in retaliation for filming a video of the outlet closing its office in Phnom Penh, saying he believed the station wanted to close the office in “hiding”.
Savborey, meanwhile, said she had a pending case at the Appeal Court regarding compensation she said RFA owed her also totalling $28,000. She said she had a contractual working relationship with RFA from 1999 to October 2015, when the news organisation fired her because she didn’t want to be stationed outside the capital.
A year later, she said, she filed a complaint at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and won the case in February, with the court ordering RFA to compensate $28,000 to her, but RFA filed an appeal.
She also claimed the Appeal Court had a hearing on the case on November 14, but RFA representatives failed to show up. Appeal Court spokesman Touch Tharith said he couldn’t check yesterday whether the hearing, in fact, took place. Aspects of the press conference yesterday raised eyebrows, however.
Copies of Ratha’s letter to the embassy were disseminated to journalists by ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng, and reporters were invited to the event by one of Kimseng’s subordinates.
At the end of the press conference, a man was seen taking reporters’ information and giving them money.
Kimseng denied the ministry was involved.