The office of the local media outlet Voice of Democracy is seen after Prime Minister Hun Sen revoked its operating license in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, February 13, 2023. (Reuters/Cindy Liu)

Cambodian authorities shutter Voice of Democracy news outlet

Bangkok, February 13, 2023 – Cambodian authorities must reverse the recent order to shut down the Voice of Democracy independent news outlet and allow the organization to continue reporting without fear of reprisal, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.

On Sunday, February 12, Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a statement on his official Facebook page authorities would revoke Voice of Democracy’s license on Monday morning, according to multiple news reports.

At 10 a.m. Monday, a group of 10 Ministry of Information officials, police officers, and other authorities delivered a letter to the outlet’s office in Phnom Penh, the capital, formally revoking its license, a Voice of Democracy representative who requested anonymity told CPJ.

The outlet will stop publishing news while pursuing all options to reinstate its license, Voice of Democracy associate editor Ananth Baliga told CPJ via email. CPJ emailed the Ministry of Information and the prime minister’s office for comment, but did not immediately receive any replies.

“Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s order to close the Voice of Democracy is unacceptable and should be immediately reversed,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “If Cambodia wants to maintain any pretense of democracy ahead of this year’s general elections, independent media must be allowed to report without fear of reprisal. This type of government harassment of the free press is all too familiar and must stop now.”

In his Facebook statement, Hun Sen said Voice of Democracy had intentionally slandered him and his son Hun Manet in a February 8 article about Cambodia’s official assistance to earthquake victims in Turkey.

The article alleged that Hun Manet, who serves concurrently as joint chief of staff and deputy commander of the country’s armed forces, overstepped his authority by signing a US$100,000 aid agreement on behalf of the prime minister.

The prime minister initially gave Voice of Democracy 72 hours to verify the story’s facts and issue an apology, but Hun Sen later said the news organization’s response was unacceptable and ordered its closure, those news reports and the Voice of Democracy representative said.

Voice of Democracy, which is run by the Cambodia Center for Independent Media nongovernmental organization, issued a second apology letter early Monday morning, but Hun Sen replied on Facebook saying he was standing by his closure order, the Voice of Democracy representative said.

 “The absence of independent media will only allow corruption to go unchecked and those in positions of power to run amok,” Ananth Baliga told CPJ.

Voice of Democracy is widely recognized as one of the few remaining independent news outlets in Cambodia, and has investigated corruption and human rights issues in the country.