The directive, announced by Phnom Penh municipal police chief, Sar Thet, on January 21, will prevent journalists from capturing footage of police investigations, identifying or locating suspects, or recording officers performing “other duties”. Any journalist found to be violating the order would face legal action.
Three national media associations, as well as the IFJ, issued an open letter to Cambodia’s information minister, Khieu Kanharith, requesting the government clarify this directive in the interest of upholding the fundamental rights and freedoms of journalists guaranteed under international law and in Cambodia’s constitution.
On January 18, three days before the decree was declared, Kanharith threatened journalists with arrest for collecting information in ‘prohibited areas’. On February 6, the police chief told CamboJA the new directive was aimed at preventing reporters and citizens from interfering in police questioning, particularly through live-streaming on social media.
Cambodia’s independent press has been in steep decline in recent years amid a government crackdown on dissidents and critics in the aftermath of the 2013 elections. Many journalists have experienced harassment and have been forced to stop recording, photographing or broadcasting during events in which police were on duty.
The directive, which became effective immediately, increases the influence of authorities over journalists in the field, and could contravene Article 41 of Cambodia’s constitution and the 1995 Press Law which protect and guarantee the right to freedom of expression, press and publication.
At least one incident has already been recorded where police cited the new directive at several journalists covering a roadside dispute.
The statement said: “We call on the government to explain clearly this latest directive, discard all unnecessary orders, laws and directives that inhibit journalists' work, and ensure that all journalists can exercise their rights to report freely and without fear.”
The IFJ said: “This is a disturbing proposal that contravenes Cambodia’s own constitution and is at direct odds with international standards by blocking journalist access to report in the public interest.”