One of Cambodia’s last remaining independent media outlets has been shut down by Prime Minister Hun Sen ahead of national elections in July, in a move condemned by rights groups as a blow to press freedom.
Voice of Democracy (VOD), a regional publication run by the Cambodian Center for Independent Media and based in the nation’s capital Phnom Penh, produced radio and internet stories on political corruption, environmental criminality, and labor and human rights issues.
It reported last week that Hun Manet, the prime minister’s son, allegedly signed an agreement to donate aid to Turkey, which was struck by a catastrophic earthquake last week. The report alluded to an apparent overstep of his authority.
Hun Sen refuted the report and issued statements on Facebook accusing the outlet of attacking his son and hurting the “dignity and reputation” of the Cambodian government.
He also refused to accept an official apology from VOD and added that its newsroom staff “should look for jobs elsewhere.”
Government officials revoked VOD’s operating license on Monday and blocked its websites in English and Khmer.
Amnesty International said the closure served as “a clear warning to other critical voices” months before national elections in July.
“The Prime Minister should immediately withdraw this heavy-handed and disproportionate order,” it said.
Exiled former Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy said VOD’s closure was “obviously politically motivated.”
The decision has been condemned by media rights and civil society organizations, who denounced the arbitrary and likely politically motivated closure of VOD. In a group statement, press freedom advocates identified how existing measures to remove or alter disputed publications already exist in Cambodia’s Press Law and urged the government to speak out against harmful and sexist language directed towards the article’s author.
The Cambodian government has previously targeted critical and independent news outlets ahead of the 2018 election, including the shuttering of Cambodia Daily in 2017 and the coerced 2018 sale of the Phnom Penh Postto, a business associate of Hun Sen.