United States-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia announced today it will close its Phnom Penh bureau and cease in-country operations citing a recent crackdown on independent media that has made it “impossible” to continue in the country.
The announcement comes as RFA and fellow US-funded broadcaster Voice of America have seen their broadcasts severely curtailed after the closure of more than 30 radio frequencies that aired their shows across the country. Last month, they were also pulled up by the Finance Ministry for failing to pay taxes and for not being licensed news organisations. The independent English-language newspaper the Cambodia Daily was also recently forced to shutter over a tax dispute.
Libby Liu, president of Radio Free Asia, said it had become increasingly apparent that Prime Minister Hun Sen had no intention of allowing a free press to exist ahead of next year’s crucial national election.
“Using a thin pretext of tax and administrative violations, authorities have closed independent radio stations carrying RFA, Voice of America, and Voice of Democracy,” she said in a statement.
She likened the broadcaster’s situation to that of the Daily, which was shut down last week for failing to pay a purported $6.3 million in back taxes after being given a one-month deadline.
“Authorities have been employing these same tactics against RFA, despite our full cooperation at every step to comply with all requests and our sincere efforts to register as a licensed media company,” she said.
“As history has shown, dictators may rise and force their will on nations, but the people will always seek truth in pursuit of freedom,” the statement concludes.
RFA spokesman Rohit Mahajan would only confirm that its local reporters will stop working in the country and coverage would be handled by its Washington, DC, bureau.
Information Ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng today maintained the ministry had nothing to do with RFA’s closure, calling it a step taken by the broadcaster, and not imposed by officials.
“Ask them whether the Ministry of Information has done anything towards their colleagues . . . All their accusations are twisted,” he said.
Earlier in the day, CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay said he would send a letter to the ministry asking for an explanation as to why radio frequencies had been shut down, claiming the closures were not in line with the Press Law.