Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is clamping down on his critics ahead of next year’s general election as an opposition leader was arrested and an independent newspaper shut down.
The Cambodia Daily’s final headline was: “Descent Into outright dictatorship”.
Kem Sokha, the leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, was arrested in a dawn raid and charged with treason.
Kem Sokha had talks with “American and Canadian professors” about how to spark a revolution in Cambodia “with similar strategy as that done in Yugoslavia”, the pro-government Fresh News website said. It did not make it clear to which era of Yugoslav history it was referring.
The opposition party denied the claims.
Hun Sen has increased his rhetoric against the US, expelling an American pro-democracy group last month and accusing Washington of conspiring with Kem Sokha.
Eighteen radio stations were shut down last month and Cambodian radio has been stopped from leasing time to the US-funded Radio Free Asia and Voice of America.
The Cambodia Daily, a tiny, independent English-language newspaper published since 1993, closed after it failed to pay a tax bill of US$6.3 million.
Phnom Penh accused the paper of purposefully hoarding VAT payments and evading tax.
Until recently, Cambodia had a relatively free media compared with communist Vietnam and Laos and junta-ruled Thailand.
The paper, which operated with a handful of staff from a small office in Phnom Penh, printed only a few thousand copies a day but had a reputation for breaking news about sensitive topics such as corruption, waste, environmental issues and land rights.
Jodie DeJong, the paper’s editor, said: “The Daily has been targeted for an astronomical tax assessment, leaks and false statements by the tax department and public vilification by the head of government.”
The American told Reuters: “We have been a burr in Hun Sen’s side for the entire time that we have been operating.
“This paper takes special pride in writing about some of the toughest issues.”
A former Khmer Rouge cadre, Hun Sen, 65, fled Cambodia in 1977 and returned with the Vietnamese military during that country’s war against the savage regime in 1979. He was first appointed foreign minister and was named prime minister in the Vietnamese-supported government in 1985.
Hun Sen said of the newspaper on Sunday: “When doing businesses, you have to pay tax. But when they didn’t pay and we asked them to leave the country, they said we are a dictatorship.”
Staff at the Cambodia Daily. Picture credit: YouTube