Cambodia silences another voice of democracy

In recent years, Prime Minister Hun Sen has steadily closed the main independent news organizations in Cambodia: print, broadcast, domestic and foreign. He has used the criminal justice system to pressure journalists and restrict press freedom while expanding censorship. On Feb. 13, he abruptly switched off one of the nation’s last remaining online outlets, the Voice of Democracy. Police arrived at its offices, and its license was revoked.

An online and radio broadcast news outlet run by the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, the Voice of Democracy has lived up to its name. Among other things, it fearlessly exposed a harrowing human trafficking scandal in Cambodia and probed how it was used to support online financial fraud centers with global reach. The Voice of Democracy says it has helped the center fulfill its mission to “promote democratic governance, human rights, the development of all economic sectors, and an independent and sustainable environment for media.” Now it is another casualty of Mr. Hun Sen’s authoritarian impulses.

The given reason for the closure was a Voice of Democracy report on Feb. 9 that Mr. Hun Sen’s son Hun Manet had signed an aid agreement to donate $100,000 to Turkey for earthquake relief. This was an apparent overstep of his authority. Mr. Hun Manet is deputy commander in chief of the Cambodian army, but such a package was supposed to be signed off by the prime minister. Mr. Hun Sen said the report damaged his government’s reputation. He is reportedly grooming Mr. Hun Manet to take over someday. The outlet’s owner, the media center, said it had been quoting a government spokesman and regretted the confusion.

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