RFA, The Cambodia Daily may reopen in Cambodia: minister
THE Cambodian government said Tuesday that Radio Free Asia is welcome to reopen its office in the capital Phnom Penh, asserting that no pressure had been applied to RFA to shut down last year and that the congressionally funded US-based international broadcaster had chosen to close on its own.
“There was no pressure,” Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng said during a public meeting at the ministry attended by police officers and NGO representatives. “RFA closed the office by itself.”
“But now we welcome them back, and the radio station can reestablish its office in Phnom Penh,” Sar Kheng said.
RFA closed its nearly 20-year old bureau in the Cambodian capital in September 2017 amid a growing crackdown by Prime Minister Hun’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) on independent media, NGOs, and critics ahead of national elections in July this year.
Cambodian journalists working for RFA had reported over the years on corruption, illegal logging, and forced evictions, among other stories largely ignored by state-controlled media, and authorities had already closed independent radio stations carrying RFA reports, using a pretext of tax and administrative violations.
In November 2017, RFA reporters Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin were taken into custody and charged with “illegally collecting information for a foreign source.”
Cambodia’s ministries of Information and Interior had warned prior to their arrests that any journalists still working for RFA after its office in the capital closed would be treated as spies.
The pair were released on bail in September after spending nine months behind bars on charges of espionage. Multiple local and international rights groups had condemned Hun Sen’s government for its treatment of the two reporters during their detention, demanding that they be freed.
Meanwhile, Sar Kheng said, The Cambodia Daily – an independent newspaper often critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen that closed in September 2017 – can resume operations if the paper pays what he said were taxes still owed to the government.
Sar Kheng said that the paper had evaded payment by closing its operations in the country.
“But if The Cambodia Daily returns and agrees to pay its taxes, they will have full rights to resume operations,” he said.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Cambodian Centre for Independent Media director Nop Vy said that instead of simply saying that foreign media outlets can return, Cambodia’s government should introduce clear measures guaranteeing press freedoms in the country.
“I would like the government to open more space for everyone to freely express their opinions on how to improve society,” he said.
“I would also like to see journalists work independently and in security,” he said.
A man reads the final issue of The Cambodia Daily Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on September 4, 2017. newspaper at a bookstore in