The staff of French-language newspaper Cambodge Soir said Wednesday the paper had been shut down following a two-day strike over the firing of a reporter who wrote an article about the new Global Witness report that was deemed unfair to the government.
In a statement Wednesday, the newspaper’s editorial staff said the paper, a 12-year-old fixture of the Cambodian press, had been closed permanently by its parent company Societe des Editions du Mekong, which claimed to be bankrupt.
“It started with an article on the Global Witness report with a theme judged too critical toward the government,” editor-in-chief Stephanie Gee said by telephone.
The firing of the reporter was the cause of a strike by Cambodge Soir staff that began Monday, the editorial staff said in the statement.
“On Tuesday night, the director verbally announced the administrative council’s decision to close down the Societe des Editions du Mekong, which publishes Cambodge Soir,” the statement added.
News of the closure came as a surprise, according to the statement, which also called the reporter’s firing “illegal.”
“This verbal decision was allegedly due to bankruptcy,” it added.
Philippe Monnin, the director of Societe des Editions du Mekong, which employs 30 people, declined to comment Wednesday.
On Tuesday he said of the striking reporters and editors: “They don’t have the same way of perceiving the development of the country.”
Members of the newspaper’s editorial staff asked that the name of the reporter who wrote the Global Witness article not be made public. Contacted by telephone, the reporter declined comment.
In the full-page article published Friday, June 1, Cambodge Soir provided a detailed summary of the Global Witness report “Cambodia’s Family Trees,” which accused an allegedly “kleptocratic elite,” including Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun, of stripping the country of its forests. The government has strongly denied the report’s allegations.
Though the article contained no response from Cambodian officials, the newspaper printed a lengthy response from Chan Sarun on June 4, the following Monday.
Gee also claimed that a member of the five-person board of Cambodge Soir’s holding company, whom she declined to name, has a professional relationship with the Agriculture Ministry. However, she said she did not believe the government had exerted pressure on the board of directors to fire the reporter.
“We do not believe there was pressure from the authorities,” Gee said.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith could not be reached Wednesday.
Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun said he was unaware that anyone in his ministry was linked with Cambodge Soir, adding that there had been no pressure on the paper to fire the reporter.
(Additional reporting by Yun Samean)