PHNOM PENH: Cambodia on Tuesday hit back at “politically driven” and “biased” concerns from Western governments over the shutdown of one of the country’s last independent media outlets ahead of national elections.
The online news outlet Voice of Democracy (VoD) stopped broadcasting in English and Khmer on Monday. Prime Minister Hun Sen had ordered its licence revoked over what he said was an erroneous report about his eldest son. Its website was still accessible as of Tuesday afternoon but no new content has been posted.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” by the “abrupt” closure of the broadcaster, adding to a chorus of criticism over Phnom Penh’s actions.
Earlier on Monday, the United States, French and German embassies in Cambodia had voiced concerns about the closure, in the run-up to the national polls.
In a statement, a Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman rejected “the politically driven, prejudiced and biased concerns” of some embassies.
“An administrative action against a rule-breaking entity does not merit any worry at all,” the spokesman said.
VoD, broadcasting since 2003, published a story on Feb 9 alleging that Hun Sen’s son, Lieut Gen Hun Manet, had signed off on funds to help earthquake-hit Turkey.
Hun Manet, who has been backed to succeed his father, has denied the claim, with Hun Sen stating he authorised the US$100,000 relief package.
Hun Sen demanded an apology from VoD, but refused to reconsider his decision to revoke its licence even after the outlet later complied.
One of the world’s longest-serving leaders, Hun Sen has increasingly cracked down on dissent as he prepares for polls in July, according to observers.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said on Tuesday the shuttering of VoD “may spell the end for the media environment necessary for credible elections”.
“Hun Sen’s closure of Voice of Democracy is a devastating blow to media freedom in the country, and will have an impact across Cambodian society,” he added.
UN human rights chief Volker Turk also called on Hun Sen’s government “to rescind this very troubling decision”.
Press freedom has long been under attack in Cambodia, with The Cambodia Daily shuttered in 2017 and a score of outlets closed the following year ahead of the 2018 elections.