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Hun Sen shutters one of Cambodia’s last independent news outlets

Bangkok, Feb 13 (EFE).- The publishing and broadcasting license of one of Cambodia’s last remaining independent news outlets, Voice of Democracy (VoD), was revoked on Monday by order of Prime Minister Hun Sen in a move slammed by governments, academics and activists.

On his Facebook page on Sunday night, the authoritarian leader, who has gripped onto power since 1985, condemned a VoD article, saying that commenters tried to attack him and his son Hun Manet, who has been positioned as Cambodia’s next leader, and that the story hurt the dignity and reputation of the government.

Hun Sen, who in 2017 also shut down independent press and the political opposition ahead of the last general election, announced that the license would be revoked a 10 am local time (03:00 GMT) Monday.

Photos posted to social media Monday reportedly showed police blocking the road in front of the VoD offices in the capital while Ministry of Information officials delivered a letter of revocation.

The article published last Wednesday quoted a Cambodian government spokesman who said Hun Manet, joint chief of staff and armed forces deputy commander, had signed an aid agreement for Turkey earthquakes. This would suggest an overstepping of his position.

Hun Sen demanded an apology from VoD, but despite a letter issued by the Cambodian Center for Independent Media – an NGO that runs the outlet – saying it regretted any confusion the article caused and explaining it had quoted a government spokesperson, Hun Sen ordered the Ministry of Information to cancel its license and said its staff should find new jobs.

“Revoking VODKhmer license is bad news for the already damaged media landscape in Cambodia. This is a serious recession for independent media ahead of the country’s general elections in summer,” Cambodia researcher and analyst Marc Piñol said on social Twitter.

Deputy Asia director for NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), Phil Robertson, in a statement on Monday described the closure of the outlet as “outrageous and ridiculous,” adding the decision “barely masks the government’s real intent to further suppress media freedom.”

“Any way, shape or form that Cambodia PM Hun Sen wants to present it, his order to shut down VOD English is ridiculously excessive, rights abusing, & calls into question the entire media environment around the July 2023 national election,” Robertson also said in a tweet.

Cambodia is scheduled to hold general elections on July 23, in a poll where Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party will square off against a suppressed opposition led by the Candlelight Party, largely made up of members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

The CNRP was a popular opposition party poised to challenge Hun Sen in 2018 but dissolved by the Supreme Court in 2017 ahead of the election. Its members largely fled into exile.

“Going after VoD is a good indication that scheduled July 23 poll will be neither free nor fair,” Robertson said.

The Embassy of France in Phnom Penh said on Twitter that it “learned with great concern the closure of VOD, an independent and professional media outlet. It recalls its strong attachment to the freedom of press.” EFE


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