Cambodia’s government has ordered internet service providers to block online access to The Cambodia Daily newspaper, which closed last year amid a widespread crackdown on media and civil society groups criticizing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
In a letter dated Sept. 28, 2017, and only now made public, Cambodia’s Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications instructed Cambodia-based service providers to block IP addresses to the newspaper’s website.
The government’s order extended also to the paper’s Facebook page and Twitter account, though technology experts say these remain largely unblocked.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Cambodian Center for Independent Media executive director Nop Vy called the government’s move damaging to media freedom and open access to information in the increasingly authoritarian Southeast Asian country.
“Our citizens find it necessary to receive news and information from a wide number of sources,” Nop Vy said, adding, “The more they receive news that is independent [from government control], the better they will be able to live in our society.”
Calls from RFA seeking clarification from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications rang unanswered on Monday, though ISP offices in Cambodia have confirmed to customers and the Phnom Penh Post that they had blocked access to the website following government instructions.
The Cambodia Daily closed its offices in September 2017 after failing to pay millions of U.S. dollars in what Prime Minister Hun Sen said were back taxes owed to the government.
Cambodia’s government at about the same time expelled U.S.-funded NGO the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and suspended some 20 radio stations that aired content by U.S. broadcasters Radio Free Asia and Voice of America.
Call for sanctions
In a motion submitted on Feb. 5, Australian legislator Mark Butler called on Australia’s parliament to impose sanctions on Cambodia for what he called Hun Sen’s persecution of his political opposition, civil society, and independent media ahead of national elections this year.
“Australia has a solemn duty to the Cambodian people and to our own values of democracy and freedom to oppose the anti-democratic actions in the lead-up to Cambodia’s June general elections,” Butler said.
“Australia, as most Australians know, played an integral role in the Paris Peace Accords promising to safeguard the process of transitioning Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge regime and, most especially, guaranteeing free and fair elections.”
“This element of the peace accords remains woefully unfulfilled,” he said.
In a response, Cambodian People’s Party spokesperson Sok Eysan called Butler’s call for sanctions a reflection of the Australian parliamentarian’s own “political bias,” adding that all moves by Cambodia’s government have complied with the Paris Peace Accords and the rule of law.
“Only [a few] organizations that operated against the law have been shut down or expelled,” he said.
“We haven’t committed any sins against the opposition. They made their own mistakes, and must be held accountable for their actions.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.