The Cambodian government’s efforts to shut down several news outlets represents a clear attempt to stifle a free press in advance of the country’s upcoming elections, PEN America said today.

The Voice of Democracy and Moha Nokor Radio, both independent radio stations, were ordered by the Ministry of Information to close on Wednesday. The Voice of Democracy, a Khmer-language station, is affiliated with the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, an independent media organization. Maha Nokor, which also broadcasts in Khmer, is seen as one of the few outlets where opposition media parties can share their message.

The Cambodian government’s Finance Ministry has also recently accused two U.S.-funded independent media outlets, Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, of failing to register with the country’s tax officials and of operating without official media licenses. Both programs have operated within Cambodia for years.

Another major media outlet, Cambodia Daily, has been accused by the Finance Ministry of failing to pay $6.3 million in taxes, an accusation which the Daily contends is politically motivated. Failure to pay the tax, the Ministry declared, may result in the newspaper’s closure. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen made remarks in favor of shutting down the newspaper if they fail to pay, and the Ministry of Information has refused to renew the Daily’s media license until the disputed bill is resolved. The Cambodia Daily, which has operated since 1993, is one of only three English-language newspapers within Cambodia and as such serves as a vital voice of news from Cambodia for the international community.

“These closures and threatened closures are an attempt by Hun Sen’s government to shut down media outlets that it believes may criticize them in the run-up to the 2018 Cambodian elections,” said James Tager, Senior Program Manager of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “Press freedom and media diversity are not political chess pieces to be removed when convenient; they are underpinnings of a democratic society. PEN America calls on the Cambodian government to cease its attempts to shutter Cambodia Daily, The Voice of Democracy, and other media outlets, and to respect press freedom and diverse media voices.”

A number of human rights groups have also reportedly been accused of not paying appropriate taxes to the government after Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered an investigation into the tax payments of NGOs registered in Cambodia. On August 23, the Foreign Affairs Ministry ordered the National Democratic Institute, a U.S.-based NGO that works to support and foster democratic institutions, to cease its operations in the country. The Ministry, alleging that the Institute had failed to meet registration requirements under the country’s Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations, also ordered the NGO’s international staff to exit the country within a week.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

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