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Cambodia's Hun Sen shutters independent radio station Voice of Democracy

Authorities arrive at the Voice of Democracy office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Monday, Feb. 13.
Heng Sinith
/
AP
Authorities arrive at the Voice of Democracy office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Monday, Feb. 13.

One of Cambodia's last remaining independent news organizations, Voice of Democracy (VOD), has ceased operations after strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen revoked its media license over the weekend, forcing all broadcasts off air.

Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the shutdown after saying VOD published "incorrect information" involving his son, Hun Manet, a lieutenant general and a high-level commander of the Royal Cambodian Army.

The radio station had previously reported that Lt. Gen. Hun Manet, a government deputy who is set to succeed his father as prime minister, allegedly signed off on $100,000 of aid to Turkey last week — an action that Prime Minister Hun Sen claimed only he has the authority to carry out.

Earlier on Sunday, VOD posted an apology on Facebook and said it would send its official apology letter to the prime minister's office the next morning.

But in a response also posted to Facebook, the Cambodian leader said that the Feb. 9 report offended both him and his son, and the prime minister refused to accept VOD's apology, adding that the newsroom's staff should look for jobs elsewhere.

All broadcasts came to a stop Monday at 10 a.m. local time.

Launched in 2003, the Phnom Penh-based nonprofit radio station was run by nongovernmental organization Cambodian Center for Independent Media. It publishes in both Khmer and English. Free press advocates said VOD was frequently critical of the government and its crackdown on human rights.

Cambodia continues its crackdown on media

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2017
Heng Sinith / AP
/
AP
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2017

International rights organizations condemned the shutdown, which comes months ahead of the Cambodia's national elections in July. Prime Minister Hun Sen is expected to win amid the People's Party crackdown on opposition groups and dissent.

"Going after VOD is a good indication that scheduled July 23 poll will be neither free nor fair," said Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson in a statement.

VOD's closure comes after a broader crackdown on Cambodia's free press.

In 2017, the Cambodia Daily — one of the country's last-remaining independent media outlets — was forced to close after the government ordered it to pay a $6.3 million tax bill.

And in 2018, several senior staffers exited the Phnom Penh Post, one of the oldest English-language publications in Cambodia, after the paper's sale to a Malaysian businessman who was a director at a public relations firm with ties to the Cambodian government.

Dozens gathered in Phnom Penh Monday to protest VOD's closure.

"We are deeply troubled by the abrupt decision to revoke Voice of Democracy's (VOD) media license," said the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia in a statement.

"A free and independent press plays a critical role in a functioning democracy, providing the public and decisionmakers with facts and holding governments to account."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mary Yang
Mary Yang is an intern on the Business Desk where she covers technology, media, labor and the economy. She comes to NPR from Foreign Policy where she covered the beginning of Russia's war in Ukraine and built a beat on Southeast Asia, Asia and the Pacific Islands.