Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, pictured in Phnom Penh, in June 2017. In the country's latest crackdown on foreign media, authorities have started an investigation into an American freelancer. (AP/Heng Sinith)

Cambodia accuses American journalist of espionage

August 31, 2017 2:40 PM ET

Cambodia's Ministry of Interior said on August 28, 2017 that it has opened an investigation into accusations spread in local pro-government media that American freelance journalist Geoffrey Cain is involved in a conspiracy to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen's elected administration, according to local language news reports.

The accusations were first published the week before by the pro-government news website Fresh News, which published pictures taken from Cain's Facebook page of him dining with opposition leader Kem Sokha's daughter at a Phnom Penh restaurant in July 2017.

The investigation was announced after a series of anonymous pro-government blogs, including a Facebook page known as Kon Khmer, or Khmer Child, accused Cain of espionage and trying to topple the Cambodian government, according to news reports.

The Ministry of Interior is also investigating whether Kem Sokha's Cambodia National Rescue Party received foreign funding to stage civil unrest aimed at overthrowing Hun Sen's government, local reports said.

Cain, a Seoul-based freelancer who writes for outlets including the Wall Street Journal and Foreign Policy and is writing a book on South Korea's Samsung conglomerate, last lived and worked as a journalist in Cambodia in 2009. Prior to that he was a staff reporter for the U.S. based GlobalPost, where he published a three-part investigative series on Cambodia's garment industry in 2014.

Cain denies the accusations, which he likened to a "scattershot" government attack against Americans, in communication with CPJ. "Whatever safety I had in Cambodia is not assured anymore," he said, adding that he fears he may be detained if traveling to the country while the investigations are ongoing. "It's sent a chill down my spine."

The allegations against Cain come amid a rising clampdown on foreign media, CPJ research and media reports show. This month, government officials threatened to close The Cambodia Daily on tax evasion accusations. The American-owned English language newspaper was given until September 4 to pay US$6.3 million in alleged back taxes. The paper's owners denied they owe that amount.

The Information Ministry has closed all local radio stations that broadcast the U.S. Congress-funded radio broadcasters Radio Free Asia and Voice of America outside of the capital, Phnom Penh, according to reports.

At least 19 radio stations have been shuttered in recent days on charges that they violated their state contracts by overselling RFA and VOA programming, reports said. Both U.S. broadcasters have faced government inquiries into their tax situation and registration status in recent weeks.

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