Cambodia: Harassment of journalists accompanies ban on opposition party

After the arrests of three reporters in the past three days amid a crackdown on the opposition, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) relays the fears of Cambodia’s journalists and urges the government to stop harassing them and to guarantee their right to report the news.

Len Leng, a former reporter for the now closed Cambodia Daily newspaper, was arrested yesterday outside the supreme court building in Phnom Penh and, although the hearing being held inside was supposed to be open to the public, she was taken into custody on the grounds that she did not have a press pass.

Leng’s suddent arrest was attributable to the fact that the pro-government supreme court had just banned the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the only opposition party represented in parliament, thereby turning Cambodia into a de facto one-party state just months ahead of elections due to be held next July. The authorities are clearly bent on silencing all dissent.

After the arrests of two former Radio Free Asia (RFA) journalists, Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, in Phnom Penh on 14 November, interior ministry spokesman Kieu Sopheak accused them of trying to improvise a studio in order to send news to RFA’s Washington headquarters. “The court is checking to find the crime,” the spokesman added, referring to the Phnom Penh municipal court’s uncertainty as to what they would be charged with. The two journalists, who deny the allegations, are due to appear in court today.

“These latest cases clearly show that the law and the judicial system are being used to suppress any independent reporting and, above all, to intimidate the entire press,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

“We relay and share the deep concern of many journalists on the ground after these arbitrary arrests. International organizations need to understand the gravity of what is happening in Phnom Penh. The denial of media freedom means the end of a 25-year democratic transition after the trauma of the Khmer Rouge genocide.”

In September, the Cambodian authorities ordered the closure of all local radio stations that carried RFA’s programming, resulting in the closure of this US-funded broadcaster’s Phnom Penh bureau and the loss of 50 jobs.

In Washington, RFA spokesman Rohit Mahajan voiced dismay at the “harassment of former RFA journalists.” He said: “The concern is that actions like these only reinforce the misuse of power by [Prime Minister] Hun Sen and the ruling CPP to intimidate independent voices and free press.”

Leng is not the first former Cambodia Daily reporter to be harassed. Two others, Aun Pheap and Zsombor Peter, were recently accused of inciting crime by covering the campaign for municipal elections held in June.

Created in 1993, the same year as Cambodia’s first free elections, the Cambodia Daily was forced to close on 4 September by a sudden tax department demand for payment of 6.3 million dollars in alleged back taxes.

Ranked 132nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s2017 World Press Freedom Index, Cambodia is liable to fall in next year’s index.

Published on
Updated on 17.11.2017