The Ministry of Information on Wednesday said it was committed to a free press, adding that Cambodia has “the most liberal press law in the region.”
The ministry also called “untrue” a statement from the UN rights office that was critical of the government’s recent treatment of the press.
An Oct 15 statement from the Cambodia Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the ministry’s recent threats and suspensions of media organizations “are serious and have negative implications for press freedoms in Cambodia.” It also expressed “concern” that government pressure on the media had increased since the July 26 elections.
The ministry’s statement, however, released two days before the arrival of Thomas Hammarberg, the UN’s top human rights envoy, said the rights office damaged its reputation and left itself and the government vulnerable to criticism by “anti-democratic” elements.
It also charges that the UN rights office’s assessment “lacks examination” and states that 211 publications of varying political persuasions have been allowed to publish in Cambodia over the last five years. It also notes that newspapers are allowed to protect the identities of their sources.
The national press law also has no restrictions on the Internet, unlike other countries in the region, and allows foreign papers and magazines to be imported, the ministry said.
The statement comes just days after the office of the government’s spokesman said the UN damaged the country’s honor when it failed to consult the Ministry of Information before issuing its criticisms.
Since the election, the government has shut down one radio station, Beehive Radio, and suspended one opposition newspaper, Udom Katte Khmer (Khmer Ideal).
Several other opposition papers and English-language news organizations have been threatened with suspension or deportation for alleged irresponsible reporting.
A Southeast Asian lawyer on Thursday agreed with the ministry’s assertion that it allows the broadest press freedoms in the region.
“If you take it country by country…the laws in Cambodia are remarkable,” the lawyer said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They don’t even have defamatory laws here.”