Bangkok, September 14, 2017--The U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Asia (RFA) has suspended its news operations in Cambodia amid a rising clampdown on independent media, according to news reports.
The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Cambodian authorities to cease their campaign of intimidation, and allow all media to report freely without fear of reprisal.
RFA President Libby Liu issued a statement on Tuesday announcing that the news broadcaster had been forced to close its bureau in the capital of Phnom Penh due to the government's mounting crackdown on independent voices.
"It has become increasingly apparent that Prime Minister Hun Sen has no intention of allowing free media to continue operating inside the country ahead of the 2018 elections," the RFA statement said. The statement said government "intimidation" of media had intensified to an "unprecedented level" in recent weeks.
The statement said authorities had made "false statements" and used "intimidating rhetoric" to pressure its local bureau, including allegations of tax and registration violations. RFA has operated in the country for nearly 20 years, the statement said.
"Radio Free Asia's decision to quit Cambodia shows just how badly the media environment has deteriorated under rising government pressure," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "If Cambodia wants to continue to be viewed as a democracy, this campaign of media intimidation must stop."
The country's information ministry closed at least 19 radio stations across the country in recent weeks on charges that they violated their state contracts by overselling RFA and Voice of America programming, reports said.
RFA said in the statement it would still report on the "most important" and "censored" issues and events in Cambodia, and continue to broadcast its programs over short wave radio, social media, and on its website.
RFA Public Affairs Director Rohit Mahajan told CPJ that RFA would adopt the same out-of-country model it employs in highly restricted countries such as China, North Korea, and Vietnam to continue reporting on Cambodia.
Information Ministry spokesperson Ouk Kimseng said the government would monitor how RFA covered news about Cambodia even after the broadcaster's decision to close its in-country bureau. Kimseng wrote on his Facebook page that the closure would transform RFA "from working openly to working from darkness," reports said.
RFA's departure comes amid rising pressure on independent media. On September 4, The Cambodia Daily English-language newspaper closed operations under official threat of forced closure over tax evasion allegations.
The paper's manager, Douglas Steele, has been barred by immigration authorities from leaving the country, a move he likened to "country arrest" during a conversation with CPJ.