Cambodian leader says radio station closure is permanent
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A day after one of Cambodia’s few independent media outlets was shut at his order, Prime Minister Hun Sen declared Tuesday that Voice of Democracy radio will not be allowed to reopen despite pleas and protests from around the world.
Voice of Democracy, better known as VoD, was closed on Monday after Hun Sen said it had not properly apologized for a story that he claimed had slandered his son, Lt. Gen. Hun Manet. The story said his son had signed a document on his father’s behalf authorizing a $100,000 donation for quake relief for Turkey.
Hun Sen said the article misrepresented the facts and that only the prime minister has the authority to make decisions on foreign aid. VoD acknowledged it had made a mistake, but Hun Sen said its statement was unsatisfactory.
Cambodia’s Information Ministry said Monday that VoD’s license was being revoked “because it has seriously violated the ethics of professional journalism and did not make a correction according to the press law, affecting the honor and prestige of the government.”
Hun Sen has led Cambodia with an iron fist for 38 years, and has declared that he wants Hun Manet, who also is army commander, to succeed him.
VoD has reported extensively on sensitive issues such as land grabbing and criminal gangs that operate with near impunity in carrying out internet scams using employees, especially foreigners, who are tricked into working under conditions of near slavery.
The closing of VoD triggered a torrent of criticism from rights groups and some Western governments.
Many noted that the action came ahead of a general election scheduled for July. There was a similar crackdown on the media ahead of the last election in 2018. At that time, a controversial court ruling before the polls also dissolved the only credible opposition force, the Cambodia National Rescue Party. Hun Sen’s Cambodian Peoples Party ended up winning all the seats in the National Assembly.
“This is a blatant attempt to slam the door on what’s left of independent media in the country, and a clear warning to other critical voices months before national elections. The prime minister should immediately withdraw this heavy-handed and disproportionate order,” said Amnesty International’s deputy regional director, Hana Young.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price, speaking Monday to reporters in Washington, said the closure was “particularly troubling given the chilling impact it will have on freedom of expression and on access to information ahead of the national elections in July.”
U.N. Human Rights chief Volker Türk likewise expressed alarm that VoD’s license had been revoked.
“I call on the government of Cambodia to rescind this very troubling decision, to protect the civil and political rights of all, and to ensure an enabling environment for civil society, including independent media outlets,” he said in a statement.
Hun Sen, in a statement posted Tuesday on the Telegram social messaging platform, warned foreign countries not to interfere in the internal affairs of Cambodia. He said he would not change his mind about closing VoD.
“Shutting down one unprofessional radio station will not kill the freedom of expression in Cambodia, but moreover, it will help strengthen the professional journalism sector in Cambodia,” he said.
Hun Sen said he was concerned that VoD staff members had lost their jobs because of what he described as the mistake of their leader, and that they will be given the chance to apply for jobs as civil servants in various government ministries according to their abilities.