The US Embassy in Phnom Penh yesterday posted its reaction to the closure of the Cambodia Daily newspaper, which ceased operations after being slapped with a $6 million back tax bill it maintains was politically motivated.
In Facebook post, the embassy said the closure resulted in an important voice being lost.
“The Cambodia Daily’s closure was a sad day for the press and for #Cambodia,” the post said.
“For three decades, The Daily provided a professional foundation for two generations of Cambodian and western journalists.
“The Cambodia Daily’s hard-working, dedicated team of Khmer and Western reporters and staff provided insightful coverage that not only benefited Cambodia’s citizens but also built an understanding of Cambodia around the world. This important voice is now lost.”
“We regret that the Cambodian government did not seek a solution that would have allowed the Daily to continue operating,” the post added.
“The Cambodia Daily connected, informed, and inspired Cambodians and their friends, both here and internationally; with its closure, there is one less window into and out of Cambodia.”
The paper ceased operations on Monday, the deadline provided to pay the tax.
The tax department has since asked the immigration department to bar the paper’s in-country manager, Douglas Steele, from leaving Cambodia.
“A credible democratic process leading up to the National Assembly election in July 2018 requires pluralism in the media as well as among political parties.
“We expect the Cambodian authorities to allow the Cambodia Daily and other affected media organisations to resume and continue operations while any tax or other issues are resolved through appropriate due process.”
CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan said that if the US wanted the Cambodia Daily to continue operations, they should help pay its debts.
“I agree that it was an important voice to provide information to the people, but they need to respect the law by paying tax and then we will allow them to continue operations,” he said.
Amnesty International echoed the paper’s stance that the tax bill was arbitrary and being used to silence a critical paper ahead of next year’s national election.
“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’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,” he said.