RFA closes bureau in Cambodia
Radio Free Asia has decided to close its nearly 20-year old bureau in Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, amid a crackdown by Prime Minister Hun Sen's authoritarian regime on independent media ahead of critical polls next year, RFA President Libby Liu announced Tuesday. "The government’s relentless crackdown on independent voices in recent weeks has made it impossible to keep the bureau open while guaranteeing the integrity of RFA’s journalistic mission," wrote Liu in a statement.
RFA isn’t the only victim of the crackdown: Using a pretext of tax and administrative violations, the Cambodian authorities have recently closed independent radio stations carrying reports from RFA and its sister US government-funded radio station, the Voice of America, as well as the Voice of Democracy station, and forced the closure of the American-owned Cambodia Daily newspaper. Liu said the authorities had employed the same tactics against RFA, despite its full cooperation to comply with all government requests and its efforts to register as a licensed media company in Cambodia.
The RFA closure of its Phnom Penh office on Tuesday came as the US ambassador to Cambodia rejected accusations by the Hun Sen government of interference by the United States as "inaccurate, misleading and baseless" and called for the release of detained opposition leader Kem Sokha. Kem Sokha was arrested on 3 September and charged with treason and accused of plotting with the United States to take power from Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander who has ruled Cambodia for more than 30 years.
"It has become increasingly apparent that Prime Minister Hun Sun has no intention of allowing free media to continue operating inside the country ahead of the 2018 elections. The government has instead seized on every opportunity to go after critics, political opponents, NGOs, and independent media committed to reporting the truth," Liu said.
Liu stressed however that RFA, which broadcasts into six countries, including North Korea, China, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, would continue reporting on Cambodia as part of its mission to provide accurate and timely news and information to Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press.