The Phnom Penh newsroom of English-language newspaper, The Cambodia Daily. The paper has closed over pressure from officials over allegations of tax evasion. (AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)
The Phnom Penh newsroom of English-language newspaper, The Cambodia Daily. The paper has closed over pressure from officials over allegations of tax evasion. (AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)

Prominent newspaper folds under official pressure in Cambodia

Bangkok, September 5, 2017–The Cambodia Daily stopped publication yesterday under official threat of forced closure over allegations of tax evasion, according to a statement released by the paper. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the silencing of the newspaper and called for an end to Cambodia’s harassment of all independent media.

The Cambodia Daily published its last edition under the headline “Descent into Outright Dictatorship,” which accompanied a report on the September 3 arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha on treason accusations, according to reports. The paper’s public statement on its decision to close said that the government had “destroyed…a special and singular part of Cambodia’s free press.”

The newspaper’s closure is over a claim by Cambodia’s Finance Ministry’s tax department that The Cambodia Daily owed US$6.3 million in unpaid taxes dating back to 2007, according to media reports. In an August 5 letter, the tax department said that the publication’s owners had 30 days to pay or face closure and seizure of its assets, reports said. The Ministry of Information refused to renew the newspaper’s license until the tax issue was resolved, according to reports.

The paper denies that it owes the amount claimed by tax authorities, including accusations made in an August 29 letter from the director general of the tax department that the paper’s owners had collected, but not paid to the government, value-added taxes. Yesterday, the tax department ordered immigration officials to block deputy publisher Deborah Krisher-Steele and the paper’s manager Douglas Steele from leaving the country, a move the latter likened to “country arrest” in speaking with CPJ.

The Cambodia Daily’s closure under official pressure shows authorities’ increased hostility to press freedom in Cambodia,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “We urge Prime Minister Hun Sen to stop his government’s unwarranted harassment of independent media and recommit his country to upholding democratic values, including a free media.”

Authorities have not yet carried out the raid of The Cambodia Daily’s Phnom Penh-based office that they warned of in the letter, according to Steele. He said all of the paper’s 34 editorial staff have stopped reporting to its office.

The Cambodia Daily was founded in 1993 by American publisher Bernard Krisher, according to news reports. The paper was incorporated as a non-profit organization that the paper says has made over US$39 million in charitable donations over the years that should be counted as deductions in any back taxes it may owe.

The newspaper’s closure is part of a mounting clampdown on foreign media, CPJ has found. 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, reports said.