Cambodia: Closure of newspaper points to escalating crackdown
The Cambodian authorities’ closure of the country’s longest running English-language newspaper today represents a new and disturbing escalation in the pre-election crackdown on government critics, Amnesty International said. The closure comes a day after the prominent opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested on trumped up charges.
The Cambodia Daily was today forced to shut down after it failed to meet a deadline to pay a multi-million dollar tax bill the government imposed on the newspaper in August. The Daily, founded in 1993, was one of the few media outlets in the country not controlled by the government.
“This is a disturbing day for freedom of expression in Cambodia. It is chilling how ruthlessly and quickly the authorities have been able to move to shut down one of the country’s few, independent voices in the media,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“The tax bill against The Cambodia Daily was always arbitrary, and authorities refused to meaningfully engage with the publishers’ efforts to reach a solution through dialogue and a transparent audit. This is a clear example of the government and Prime Minister Hun Sen silencing a source of objective criticism and news.”
The closure of the newspaper comes at a time when Cambodian authorities are intensifying a crackdown on all forms of dissent ahead of the general election in 2018.
In the past weeks, authorities have forced off the air radio stations who broadcast programs from Radio Free Asia or Voice of America. They also abruptly shut down the Cambodian operations and expelled staff of the US NGO, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) under the Law on Associations and Non-governmental Organizations (LANGO). The organization was punished for continuing to operate while awaiting a response to its request for registration, which had been pending since 2016.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, police arrested Kem Sokha, the leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, and accused him of “conspiracy with a foreign power” which could carry a 30-year jail sentence.
“Kem Sokha’s arrest shows clearly how the Cambodian authorities have co-opted the criminal justice system to act as a tool of repression, and are trying to eliminate the opposition ahead of next year’s vote. The accusation against him is fanciful and desperate, and he must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said James Gomez.
“The coordinated campaign of repression against the opposition and media is intensifying. Now is the time for the international community to step in and push Hun Sen and his government to end this alarming downward spiral and ensure respect for human rights.”