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Cambodia shuts down one of its last independent news outlets

February 13, 2023

Prime Minister Hun Sen claimed that VOD, a news outlet, had slandered him and his son. He is one of the world's longest-serving dictators.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen stands in front of a mic.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the shutdown of one of the last few local independent.Image: Ly Lay/Xinhua/picture alliance

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday ordered the shutdown of one of the last few local independent news outlets.

He claimed that the organization, The Voice of Democracy (VOD), had intentionally slandered him and his son in an article about the country's relief assistance to earthquake victims in Turkey.

VOD will no longer have a license to publish or broadcast from 10 a.m. local time (0300 UTC) on Monday, the prime minister said in a Facebook statement.

A Voice of Democracy banner.
VOD will no longer have a license to publish or broadcast.Image: Heng Sinith/AP Photo/picture alliance

Hun Sen offended by VOD

In an article published Wednesday, VOD quoted government spokesperson Phay Siphan as saying that Hun Sen's son — Hun Manet — had signed the $100,000 (€ 93,750) aid agreement on behalf of the prime minister.

Hun Manet is the joint chief of staff and deputy commander for the country's armed forces. He has been nominated by the ruling party to succeed his father in future elections.

By signing such an agreement, Hun Manet appeared to have overstepped the bounds of his position.

The prime minister initially gave VOD 72 hours to verify the facts with the Ministry of Information and demanded a public apology.

VOD sent a letter to Hun Sen's Cabinet saying it was sorry for any confusion it may have caused and explained that the organization had only quoted a government spokesperson.

Hun Sen said the response was unacceptable and, on Sunday, ordered the ministry to revoke VOD's license.

"Commentators tried to attack me and my son Hun Manet," Hun Sen said, adding that the VOD story hurt the "dignity and reputation" of the Cambodian government.

He ordered the police to "keep order" but not seize property, and asked the staff of VOD to "find new jobs at other places."

There was no immediate comment from Phay Siphan on the incident.

A longstanding crackdown on media and dissent

Hun Sen is one of the world's longest-serving dictators. Many of his political rivals have been jailed and exiled, and multiple critical media outlets have been shut.

In 2017, The Cambodia Daily — which had a reputation for breaking news on tough issues — was shut down just months ahead of the last general election in 2018.

The paper was slapped with a $6.3 million (€ 5.9 million) tax bill and given one month to pay it.

Does Cambodia have a viable opposition?

ns/fb (AP, Reuters, AFP)