How does one of the world’s longest-serving authoritarian leaders clear the way for his heir apparent? By arbitrarily shutting down arguably the best and last independent media outlet in his country months before national elections. In so doing, the strongman would repress freedom of expression and access to information at a time when both would be crucial to free and credible elections.
That seems to be the game plan of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled the Southeast Asian country with an iron first for almost 40 years. Last Sunday
, he said in a statement on his official Facebook page that authorities would revoke the broadcast license of independent Cambodian newsroom Voice of Democracy
(VOD) on Monday
morning, according to news reports.
VOD’s supposed violation: reporting on Feb. 9 that Hun Sen’s eldest son, Lieutenant General Hun Manet — not the prime minister himself — had allegedly approved Cambodia’s US$100,000
financial aid to earthquake-stricken Turkey. Manet was endorsed by Hun Sen and Cambodia’s ruling party as the country’s future prime minister
in December 2021.
Hun Sen was irked by the report and said that VOD had slandered him and his son. He demanded an apology and received one from the media outlet. Nevertheless, he ordered VOD shut down anyway.
Human rights groups also sounded the alarm about the closure of a media outlet which has reported widely on abuses of power and corruption in Cambodia for 20 years
and has earned a reputation for thorough investigative reporting on crucial human rights issues.Hana Young
, Amnesty International Deputy Regional Director, said: “This is a blatant attempt to slam the door on what’s left of independent media in the country, and a clear warning to other critical voices months before national elections.”
Shawn Crispin, senior Southeast Asia representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists
, called for the immediate reversal of VOD’s closure. He said, “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.”
Hun Sen’s peremptory closure of VOD drew international criticism from European Union embassies in Cambodia, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and United States, reports Al Jazeera
VOD is the not the first independent media outlet to have been silenced — in one form or another — by Hun Sen. In 2017, The Cambodia Daily
was shut down just months ahead of the last general election in 2018
. In the same year, the government “forced the sale of the Phnom Penh Post
to buyers friendly to the government,” says Human Rights Watch