United Nations (UN) experts* are calling on Cambodian authorities to reinstate the independent radio station, Voice of Democracy (VOD), after it was stripped of its broadcasting license to operate in English and Khmer last week.
VOD was one of Cambodia’s few remaining independent media outlets, and was known for reporting on human rights issues, environmental crimes, and corruption.
The experts expressed alarm about the revocation of VOD’s license, stating that it was done without due process, and leaves virtually no free media outlets operating in the country.
This move comes in the lead-up to crucial national elections scheduled for July 2023.
The UN experts called on Cambodian authorities to review the revocation with immediate effect, stressing that the world is watching Cambodia ahead of the upcoming elections.
They emphasized the need for a vibrant civil society and independent media at this critical juncture, including media outlets that can report critically on government policies. The experts urged authorities to reverse the decision, and to ensure that there is a free and fair media environment in the country.
Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the closure of VOD after it published an erroneous report about his son, Lieutenant General Hun Manet, allegedly signing off on funds to help earthquake-hit Turkey.
Hun Manet denied the claim, and Hun Sen demanded an apology from VOD, but refused to reconsider his decision to revoke its license even after the outlet complied.
Journalists and staff at VOD were deeply shocked and upset by the closure, and the move was widely condemned by local and international groups.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) described it as an “outrageous and ridiculous order” that barely masks the government’s intent to further suppress media freedom, and warned that it is a clear warning that the upcoming elections will not be free or fair.
In the days following the closure, some Cambodian internet service providers blocked access to VOD’s website, requiring readers to use a virtual private network (VPN) to access the site.
This move further restricts access to information and demonstrates the Cambodian government’s ongoing efforts to silence dissent and restrict freedom of speech.
*The UN experts: Mr Vitit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia; and Ms Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders ; Ms Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.