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June 27, 2018 - Updated on June 29, 2018

Cambodian regime completes war on press freedom just before poll

In the course of his election campaign, Prime Minister Hun Sen pretends to fight with an orangutan dressed as a boxer at the opening of Phnom Penh’s zoo on 23 June 2018. After eliminating all of Cambodia’s independent media, it was the only opponent he could find (photo: Tang Chhin Soty / AFP).
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the latest draconian restrictions on journalists who were hoping to cover the general elections due to be held in Cambodia exactly one month from today, and urges the international community to impose sanctions on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s regime.

If there were still any doubts, it is now patently clear. Hun Sen’s clique dealt the final blow to 25 years of Khmer democracy at the start of June, when the National Election Commission (NEC) unveiled a code of conduct for election coverage that constitutes a shocking litany of press freedom violations.

 

Reporters covering the 29 July elections will face fines of up to 7,500 dollars if they conduct interviews near polling stations, use their “own ideas to make conclusions” or publish news that “affects political and social stability” or causes “confusion and loss of confidence” in the electoral process.

 

“This code of conduct uses a totalitarian language that recalls the worst periods of Cambodia’s history,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “These restrictions on journalists are the finishing touches to a ruthless plan launched a year ago to silence all dissent and turn Hun Sen into Cambodian press freedom’s high executioner.

 

“Cambodia’s trade partners, starting with the European Union, the United States and Japan, must draw the inevitable conclusions by quickly implementing sanctions against those responsible for this disastrous situation.”

 

The sale of the Phnom Penh Post, Cambodia’s last independent newspaper, to a Malaysian businessman linked to Hun Sen in May marked the end of media pluralism in Cambodia.

 

In August 2017, a few weeks after an opposition breakthrough in the June 2017 communal elections, the government began implementing a plan that led to the closure of more than 30 radio stations and Cambodia Daily, a newspaper that had helped nurture Khmer democracy for three decades.

 

Three journalists, Uon Chhin, Yeang Sothearin and James Ricketson, have meanwhile been held on spying charges for months in Prey Sar prison.

 

RSF publishes a regularly-updated Handbook for Journalists during Elections that offers detailed responses to all election coverage questions, including what to do when major constraints are imposed on the media’s ability to operate.

 

Cambodia is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index, ten places lower than in 2017.