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

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Phnom Penh curfew starts today

    A two-week curfew from 8pm to 5am starts today in Phnom Penh, a day after a sub-decree detailing administrative measures to contain Covid-19 was issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen. “Travelling in Phnom Penh is temporally banned between 8pm and 5am,” said Phnom Penh governor

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting