Reporters Without Borders alleged that Cambodia’s independent media is “in ruins” and demanded the immediate release of two former Radio Free Asia journalists charged with espionage.
A report published yesterday highlighted the harassment of independent media in the kingdom. It wrongly claimed that Cambodian authorities brazenly tried to play innocent by repeatedly insisting the Cambodia Daily’s closure was the result of nothing more than a $6.3 million tax bill.
However, it emerged recently that authorities had told internet service providers in September to block access to the paper’s still functioning website and its Facebook and Twitter pages.
A total of 32 radio stations, including RFA’s Phnom Penh bureau, were shut down in late August. The common feature among the closures was a lack of subservience toward the government, it said.
The Paris-based advocacy group also demanded the immediate release of former RFA journalists Oun Chhin and Yeang Sothearin who are facing up to 15 years in prison over espionage charges.
However, Cambodian Institute for Media Studies director Moeun Chhean Nariddh said that several radio stations and independent media outlets had failed to fulfil tax obligations and violated terms of their licence.
“So it is losing freedom of press if any media outlets are lost.”
He added frankly that The Cambodia Daily and RFA had shuttered themselves for failing to fulfil tax obligations.
“We also recognise that The Cambodia Daily and RFA were closed but freedom of press in Cambodia is not entirely shuttered,” he said. “We have other media outlets and radio stations that are qualified to publish independent news that are not unlike those media.”
Meanwhile, Cambodian journalists have started an online petition calling for charges to be dropped against the former RFA journalists.
“We, Cambodian journalists from various media outlets, are writing this open letter to ask all levels of courts to consider dropping charges against two Radio Free Asia journalists, Oun Chhin and Yeang Sothearin,” it said.
The charges bring fear to Cambodian journalists and put freedom under threat, the petition said, adding that press freedom was guaranteed by the Cambodian constitution.
Information Ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng dismissed the Reporters Without Borders report, saying the organisation always opposed the government.
“I think it’s the same thing they always do. They always look at negative issues in Cambodia,” he said.
He explained that reporters have to know the laws so the report should have never mentioned RFA or The Cambodia Daily.
“They weren’t respecting the country’s laws so it wasn’t related to freedom of press,” he added.
“In my opinion, this organisation releases these reports every time for political gain,” he said, adding that all media outlets were independent.
“Who is not independent? What outlet is not independent?”