Law enforcement and ministry officials visited the offices of Voice of Democracy (VOD) on the morning of February 13 ordering journalists to stop publishing immediately. Sen instructed the Ministry of Information to cancel the outlet’s publishing and broadcasting licences, revoking its right to continue radio and online news services. Since the decision, VOD’s online Khmer and English services have been blocked by several internet service providers throughout the country.
On February 9, VOD released an article in Khmer that claimed Hun Sen’s son, Lieutenant General Hun Manet, had signed a donation of USD 100,000 for earthquake relief in Türkiye under his father’s name. Hun Manet, the head of Cambodia’s military, disputed the claim, and urged the outlet via social media to provide sources for their article. On February 11, Sen demanded a public apology from the outlet within 72 hours, later shortening the deadline to 10 am on February 13. Despite receiving an official, apologetic letter from the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media, VOD’s parent company, Sen ordered the revocation of the licence.
The decision has been condemned by media rights and civil society organisations, who denounced the arbitrary and likely politically motivated closure of VOD. In a group statement, press freedom advocates identified how existing measures to remove or alter disputed publications already exist in Cambodia’s Press Law, and urged the government to speak out against harmful and sexist language directed towards the author of the article.
The Cambodian government has previously targeted critical and independent news outlets ahead of the 2018 election, including the shuttering of Cambodia Daily in 2017, and the coerced 2018 sale of the Phnom Penh Postto a business associate of Hun Sen.
The CamboJA said: “No journalist should ever be attacked as a result of their work or identity. We hope the government acknowledges the essential role of VOD and its journalists, along with the remaining independent media outlets in the country, and their right to do their work in accordance with the law and without fear of intimidation and harassment”
The IFJ said: “Hun Sen’s order to shutdown VOD represents an serious misuse of power and poses a severe threat to press freedom in Cambodia. The IFJ urges the Cambodian government to reverse its decision to shutter VOD and ensure the outlet is able to continue to produce independent and critical journalism without fear of reprisal.”