Radio Free Asia shuts Phnom Penh office after 20 years

Mom Sophon / Khmer Times :


Radio Free Asia yesterday closed its Phnom Penh office, telling staff their employment contracts would be terminated with immediate effect.

An RFA statement said last night it had been forced to close its office after nearly 20 years.

“Prime Minister Hun Sen has no intention to allow free media to operate in Cambodia before the 2018 election,” it said.

It said the government had forced the Cambodia Daily newspaper to shut down with a serious tax bill and was using the same method against RFA.

It said however that RFA would continue its mission via shortwave radio, YouTube, Facebook and its Khmer website.

The Ministry of Finance last month requested the Ministry of Information take legal action against RFA for allegedly failing to register for tax and operating without a licence.

The US government-backed RFA broadcasts news programmes in nine languages from Washington and has been running a Khmer service since 1997.

A total of 13 radio stations in 10 provinces and the capital were rebroadcasting the RFA Khmer service, but the owners of the stations were recently ordered by the Ministry of Information to stop doing so.

Information Ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng said the closure of the RFA’s office in Phnom Penh was unrelated to the government and a decision made solely by the management of the station.

He said that one or two years ago, RFA officials from the US had contacted the ministry to register its representatives in Cambodia like other foreign news agencies, but claimed RFA did not follow instructions at the time.

“RFA did not comply with ministry guidelines, and it also published information inciting the public,” he said.

RFA reporter Sok Ratha said some staff would keep working for the station on a freelance basis.

“RFA confirmed the reason for the closure is that the management does not want to work under government pressure any more,” he said.

Mr Kimseng said he had heard that RFA reporters would be continuing to feed anonymous information to journalists based in the US.

“When reporters act like spies, I think they intend to do something bad,” he said.

“I think the relevant officials, especially the Ministry of Interior, may need to take measures that exceed the authority of the Ministry of Information.”

The recent crackdown on media outlets has drawn widespread condemnation from the international community.

CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay said yesterday that his party had filed a letter to the Information Ministry asking it for clarification over the closure of more than 20 radio stations, which were targeted for carrying RFA and Voice of America broadcasts.

“We urge the Ministry of Information to authorise those stations to broadcast again, because the reasons the ministry gave for stopping them were unreasonable,” he said.

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