Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Freedom House latest group to note fall in press freedom

Freedom House latest group to note fall in press freedom

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Kong Raiya, a university student seen here posing for a photograph outside Preah Vihear temple, was detained after posting a comment to social media about colour revolution in 2015. Photo supplied

Freedom House latest group to note fall in press freedom

Yet another international organisation released a report criticising the Cambodian government’s treatment of the press yesterday, warning that the Kingdom could experience an even more severe “crackdown” as the elections draw nearer, while also pointing to concerning trends in mature democracies like Australia and the US.

The new report, by the US government-funded pro-democracy NGO Freedom House, singled out Cambodia as a “country to watch”.

“Prime Minister Hun Sen’s determination to avoid a repeat of 2013 general elections, in which the opposition made significant gains, could translate into a media crackdown ahead of upcoming polls,” the report says.

A press freedom ranking by Reporters Without Borders released on Wednesday ranked Cambodia 132 out of 180 countries, and claimed the July murder of political analyst Kem Ley was meant to silence media and government critics.

Freedom House ranked the Kingdom 33 out of 40 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, and 152 out of 199 countries globally. The Cambodian press was rated “not free” by the report.

Other “countries to watch” included Australia and the US. The report criticised the Australian government’s use of a telecommunications law to collect journalists’ metadata without a warrant, and wondered whether US President Donald Trump’s attack on media outlets could lead to “systematic restrictions on journalists”. Despite these concerns, both countries retained their “free” press ratings, awarded global ranks of 31 and 33, respectively.

Both reports come in the wake of Cambodian-American RFA journalist Chun Chanboth being summonsed to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for allegedly concealing his identity in order to interview a politically sensitive prisoner.

“The authorities in Cambodia stepped up monitoring of social media activity ahead of local and national elections in 2017 and 2018, pursuing criminal cases against both prominent figures and ordinary users whose comments were considered politically sensitive,” the report also states.

University student Kong Raiya recently completed an 18-month sentence for posting Facebook comments appearing to endorse “colour revolution”, a term typically understood to indicate non-violent protest movements. Former opposition lawmakers Um Sam An and Hong Sok Hour, meanwhile, are serving two-and-a-half- and seven-year sentences, respectively, for Facebook posts accusing the government of ceding land to Vietnam.

Moeun Chhean Nariddh, of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, said average social media users are at particular risk, because they don’t have the support of institutions.

“Compared to professional journalists, social media users – citizen journalists – seem to have suffered from expressing their freedoms,” he said, maintaining that such speech should be protected by the Constitution, though users often suffer legal consequences anyway.

“We learned from the previous elections that the government intends to put more restrictions on the free press,” he said, adding that he anticipated a renewed crackdown.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan rejected the report, claiming there are “no restrictions” on press in Cambodia, before acknowledging that members of the press who encourage “rebellion” or “instability” can be prosecuted.

“They have to respect Cambodian law. If they abuse the law, the court will punish them,” he said.

Siphan also accused Freedom House of trying to “paint the election” by making pre-emptive accusations.

MOST VIEWED

  • Omicron patients can stay home: PM

    The Ministry of Health has issued a directive on the treatment of people who have tested positive for the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant, following a suggestion from Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of January 21. The directive permits home quarantine for those who

  • The effects of the USD interest rate hike on Cambodian economy

    Experts weigh in on the effect of a potential interest rate expansion by the US Federal Reserve on a highly dollarised Cambodia Anticipation of the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike in March is putting developing economies on edge, a recent blog post by

  • Cambodia’s first ever anime festival kicks off Jan 22 at capital’s F3 centre

    Phnom Penh's first ever Anime Festival will bring together fans, artists, shops and other local businesses with ties to the Japanese animation style for cosplay competitions, online games, pop-up shops and more on January 22, with Friends Futures Factory (F3) hosting. F3 is a project that

  • Hun Sen gets 4th Covid shot, urges compatriots to follow

    Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany on January 14 received their fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine and called on compatriots to follow suit as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread in the community. This marks the launch of Cambodia's fourth-dose vaccination campaign,

  • Fourth dose Covid booster drive jabs 43K in two days

    In the first two days of the fourth-dose Covid-19 vaccination campaign, more than 43,000 people volunteered to get the jabs, while over 4.6 million people have received a third shot. Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said that fourth-dose vaccinations, which began on January 14 exclusively with the Pfizer

  • Singapore backs Cambodia's efforts on Myanmar

    Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong supports Cambodia in its efforts to seek a solution to the ongoing Myanmar crisis as the chair of ASEAN. Lee expressed his support during a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen via videoconference on January 14, with the talks focused