The IPI global network condemns the Cambodian government’s attack on press freedom after Prime Minister Hun Sen last week ordered the closure of one of the last remaining independent domestic news outlets, Voice of Democracy. The government must immediately rescind this order and allow VOD and other independent media to operate, in line with domestic and international commitments to protect freedom of expression and press freedom. 

Based in Phnom Penh, Voice of Democracy (VOD) is an independent media outlet that produces radio programs and news via the internet, covering a variety of public interest issues, from politics to human rights and the environment.

On February 9, VOD reported that Hun Manet, commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and Hun Sen’s son, allegedly signed off $100,000 of aid to Turkey following the February 6 earthquakes despite not having the authority to do so. Hun Sen denied this and accused the outlet on Facebook of damaging the “dignity and reputation” of the government. He refused to accept an apology from VOD and ordered its shutdown by February 13, 2023, revoking its license.

“The prime minister’s order to close Voice of Democracy, as one of the last remaining independent news outlets in Cambodia, is an extremely worrying sign in a country where media already operate in an extremely restrictive environment and journalists routinely face harassment and arrest”, IPI Director of Advocacy Amy Brouillette said. “The media play an essential role in shedding light on actions and decisions by public figures. Political leaders need to be able to withstand such scrutiny without seeking retribution against those who report on matters of public concern.”

Freedom of expression and freedom of information are human rights guaranteed under Cambodian and international law. However, media freedom in Cambodia has become increasingly limited in the last few years, with journalists under constant threat of interference or attack, particularly since Hun Sen began his sixth term as prime minister in 2018. The Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association, a network that promotes access to information and press freedom, said in a 2021 report that harrassment and attacks against journalists have increased over previous years.

Cambodian authorities regularly monitor Facebook comments, and government critics have been brought to trial for such cases. In January, Hun Sen ordered the police to find the person who posted a critical comment about him on Facebook.