The Cambodian government must end its crackdown on independent media outlets and rights groups, says Global Witness.
At least 33 radio stations have been taken off-air amid claims by the Ministry of Information that broadcasters broke contracts with the government. Several stations have axed the independent Voice of Democracy show from their programming, and the US-backed paper The Cambodia Daily was handed a US$ 6.3 million tax bill it says is politically motivated.
Global Witness campaigner Emma Burnett said: “The ruling party is either closing down organisations that it considers a threat to its re-election, or slapping them with crippling tax bills that may choke them out of existence. Without these outlets the Cambodian people will be disproportionately exposed to media that is little more than government propaganda.”
NGOs too are in the line of fire. Cambodia’s branch of the US-funded National Democratic Institute was folded last week due to alleged tax and registration violations, and its foreign staff given one week to leave the country. This comes after the election-monitoring consortium known as the Situation Room was told it may be banned from future vote monitoring.
Meanwhile the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) is keeping a low profile for fear of closure as the situation continues to escalate ahead of general elections next year.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is one of the world’s longest serving prime ministers, in power for 30 years. His regime has seen political opposition systematically quashed and critics tortured, arbitrarily detained and murdered. Hun Sen and his Cambodia People’s Party were again accused of intimidating voters in the lead-up to local elections in June.
Emma said: “This latest wave of threats, closures and expulsions are clearly intended to scare the prime ministers’ critics into silence. We mustn’t underestimate the chilling effect that this will have on freedom of speech across the country. Donor governments and countries that trade with or invest in Cambodia should use their influence to try to halt Hun Sen’s crackdown before it escalates further.”
Global Witness’ office in Cambodia closed in 2005, in response to serious threats to local employees and a ban on members of its international staff entering the country. This followed the publication of a Global Witness report, Taking a Cut, that exposed the role of elite military figures in illegal logging and related corruption, and which the government sought to ban.
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