Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - International groups slam NGO and media closures



International groups slam NGO and media closures

A man reads an issue of the Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh. The government has come under sharp international criticism for threatening to close the paper over a purported $6.3 million tax bill.
A man reads an issue of the Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh. The government has come under sharp international criticism for threatening to close the paper over a purported $6.3 million tax bill. Hong Menea

International groups slam NGO and media closures

International condemnation for the government’s continued clampdown on NGOs and independent media organisations continued to flow in over the weekend, with Human Rights Watch (HRW) calling it an “escalating campaign of politically-motivated harassment, intimidation, and legal action”.

In recent weeks, government agencies have initiated unilateral investigations into the tax compliance of rights NGOs and independent media outlets, including the English-language newspaper the Cambodia Daily – with the latter being asked to pay a purported $6.3 million in back taxes and penalties or cease operations.

The Daily met with tax officials on Friday, but General Manager Douglas Steele declined to comment on the meeting’s outcome.

An issue of the Cambodia Daily hangs among other newspapers at a newstand in Phnom Penh.
An issue of the Cambodia Daily hangs among other newspapers at a newsstand in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Additionally, 15 local radio stations were asked to stop operations for allegedly not adhering to clauses in their contracts requiring them to inform the Ministry of Information about who they sell their airtime to. This has disproportionately affected independent radio broadcasters Radio Free Asia, Voice of America and Voice of Democracy, and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.

On Friday, Voice of Democracy released a statement saying that in addition to two stations that had stopped airing its programming last week, three others in Siem Reap, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces had followed suit.

The media closures were panned by the United Nations, European Union, HRW and Reporters Without Borders, with the latter classifying the actions taken against independent media outlets as “disturbing”.

Liz Throssell, spokeswoman for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed concerns over the media closures, asking the government to respect the country’s international obligations to ensure freedom of association and expression.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
National Democratic Institute representatives pose for a photograph with former opposition leader Sam Rainsy. Facebook

The media crackdown coincided with the shuttering of the US-funded pro-democracy NGO National Democratic Institute (NDI), which was ordered to close down by the Foreign Ministry for not being properly registered. It’s foreign staff were given a week to leave the country.

HRW’s Phil Robertson said that the attack on the Daily showed a shrinking tolerance for critical views.

“The list of news, human rights and democracy-promoting organizations under attack by the Cambodian government seems to grow by the minute,” Robertson said in a statement. “Hun Sen’s authoritarian rule is being chiseled in stone.”

While the US State Department and US Embassy in Phnom Penh strongly condemned the action, it was followed by more criticism from US Representative Alan Lowenthal and veteran US Senator John McCain.

“By expelling the NDI staff, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is only demonstrating that he is afraid of open society and debate, and that he is willing to use authoritarian tactics to suppress them,” McCain said.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan, Foreign Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry and ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan could not be reached for comment yesterday.

MOST VIEWED

  • Would you like fries with that? US burger chain makes Phnom Penh debut

    California-based The Habit Burger Grill restaurant chain is all set to serve up a delicious array of charbroiled burgers and sides at its newest international location in the centre of Phnom Penh. The Habit is “renowned for its award-winning Charburgers grilled over an open flame,

  • Phnom Penh underpass opens to ease traffic

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced a temporary opening of the 488m underpass at the Chaom Chao roundabout in Phnom Penh’s Por Sen Chey district, which was recently completed to connect traffic from National Road 4 to Russian Federation Blvd. The move is to reduce

  • ‘No chance Cambodia booted out of ASEAN’

    A group of former and current Cambodian diplomats on Tuesday fired back at retired Singaporean diplomat Bihalari Kausikan after he proposed that ASEAN dismiss Cambodia and Laos from the bloc. In an open letter, the Cambodian diplomats said Kausikan’s remarks were made from a

  • Woman seeks answers after arrest of American partner

    Filipina Lalaine de Guzman, 48, is demanding answers for the detention of her American partner by Cambodian immigration officers after he was arrested at their home almost 90 days ago. She said without an arrest warrant or proffering any criminal charges, Stephen Sidney Greatsinger, 56, is being detained

  • Banteay Meanchey flood victims receive aid

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday provided aid to more than 10,000 families affected by flooding in Banteay Meanchey province’s Mongkol Borei district and offered his condolences to the 18 victims who drowned in the province over the past week. He said flooding had occured in

  • PM urges caution as Polish man tests positive for Covid

    The Ministry of Health on Wednesday reported that a 47-year-old Polish man tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in Cambodia on Monday. There are a total of six Covid-19 patients currently in the country, all of whom are being treated at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital