The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the opposition CNRP and a US senator have all expressed concern over the government’s crackdown on critical media and an NGO.
The government has in the past few weeks threatened to shut down the Cambodia Daily newspaper over unpaid taxes, kicked the National Democratic Institute out of the country and shut down radio stations renting airtime to Radio Free Asia and Voice of America.
Critics claim the crackdown is aimed at silencing critics ahead of next year’s national elections, while the government maintains that it is simply strengthening the rule of law and implementing newly passed amendments.
“We are concerned by the rapid series of ministerial and administrative measures which have resulted in the suspension of radio programs and licences, threatened a English-language newspaper with closure, and shut down a foreign non-governmental organisation,” OHCHR spokeswoman Liz Throssell said on Friday.
“Ahead of next year’s general election, we call on the government to guarantee full political and civil rights and media freedoms.”
Ms Throssell said she had noted that organisations working on human rights or election issues were the ones being targeted.
“We are concerned that NDI was closed without due process, and are worried about overall deterioration of the environment for human rights defenders and civil society in Cambodia,” Ms Throssell said. “We call on the Royal Government of Cambodia to ensure due process in all measures taken, including the right to appeal.”
US Senator John McCain also released a statement on Friday addressing the closure of NDI, which the government banned after learning it held a conference with the CNRP before the June commune elections and was operating without a proper licence.
“I am concerned and disappointed by the news that the Cambodian government has ordered staff members of the National Democratic Institute to leave the country,” Mr McCain said.
“This is just the latest action in the government’s campaign to silence proponents of democracy, harass civil society, and restrict the media in an effort to inhibit a free and open process in national election scheduled for next year.”
The CNRP said on Friday that the government should reconsider expelling the NDI and cease its harassment of independent media.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the government was strengthening the rule of law by implementing tax laws that had gone unchecked before and newly passed amendments on NGOs.
Mr Eysan said the NDI closure, the radio station closures, and battle with the Cambodia Daily newspaper were all based on the organisations failing to follow the law.
“We have closed one or two media outlets that broke the law,” he said. “Hundreds of other media remain for people to access information.”
“The US cannot interfere in Cambodia’s affairs while we are improving the rule of law,” he added. “Their critique cannot protect those that break the law.”