An independent news outlet that ceased operations within Cambodia ahead of government demands it settle a crushing "tax debt" has dismissed a government offer for reinstatement.
Cambodia’s Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said Tuesday that the Cambodia Daily can resume operations within the country if the paper pays what he said were taxes still owed to the government.
The Cambodia Daily, which once had a print version available in the Cambodian capital, closed there in September 2017, but now delivers its content online from an outside location through its website and Facebook page.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service on Thursday, Deborah Krisher-Steele, deputy publisher of the outlet, called the demand for back taxes is merely a cover for the government censoring of independent media.in the country.
“Cambodia scores as the most corrupt country in ASEAN because of behavior like this,” Krisher-Steele said. “The regime politicized the tax department to take out independent media."
Krisher-Steele said forcing the closure of the Cambodia Daily “was about censorship, not taxes.”
“Now the regime is offering to let bygones be bygones provided the Daily pays a 'debt' that even Cambodia's famously corrupt courts haven't bothered to adjudicate,” she said.
Not within state jurisdiction
“Under the regime's 'catch and release' abuse of the tax system and courts, it is not possible to operate a legitimate news business in Cambodia without either self-censoring, paying bribes, or both,” Krisher-Steele said.
“Rather than submitting to censorship, the Daily has reorganized outside of the regime's jurisdiction and resumed operations as a noncommercial, online news service. The Daily's mission to be Cambodia's news source of record remains the same as when we started 25 years ago: hard news without fear or favor.”
Since the paper re-invented itself online, the government has attempted to prevent its citizens from viewing the Daily’s content.
“The regime has ordered Cambodian ISPs to block the Daily website, so Facebook has become one of our most robust channels around their censorship,” Krisher-Steele said, adding, “Facebook is internally encrypted so the regime can block all of it, or none.”
“Cambodiadaily.com is available for users outside of Cambodia or who have a VPN while much of our readership inside sees us through our Facebook page,” she said.
“Ironically, our reach inside Cambodia is larger now than when the Daily was primarily in print in the capital, as more of our articles are in Khmer or in audio format,” the deputy publisher said.
Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Cambodia 132nd out of 180 countries in its 2017 World Press Freedom Index, and warned that the Southeast Asian nation is “liable to fall” in the 2018 index.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Eugene Whong.