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Cambodian leader says ‘no chance’ news outlet allowed to reopen

There is “no chance” one of Cambodia’s last independent media outlets will be allowed to reopen, leader Hun Sen said Tuesday, after officials hit back at Western governments’ concerns over press freedoms ahead of national elections.

Online Khmer- and English-language outlet Voice of Democracy (VOD) stopped broadcasting on Monday. Prime Minister Hun Sen had ordered its licence revoked over what he said was an erroneous report about his eldest son.

Late Monday night the United States said it was “deeply concerned” by the “abrupt” closure of the broadcaster, adding to a chorus of criticism from rights groups and western missions over Phnom Penh’s actions.

“Foreigners have no right to order us to do this or that to fulfil their wishes because this is our internal affairs,” Hun Sen wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday afternoon, reiterating the media outlet “has no chance to reopen”.

“The shutting down of an unethical radio station won’t kill press freedom in Cambodia at all,” he said, adding that he would offer the affected reporters state jobs.

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Earlier Tuesday a Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman rejected “the politically-driven, prejudiced and biased concerns” of some embassies.

“An administrative action against a rule-breaking entity does not merit any worry at all,” the spokesman said in a statement.

VOD, broadcasting since 2003, published a February 9 story alleging that Hun Sen’s son, Lieutenant General Hun Manet, had signed off on funds to help earthquake-hit Turkey.

Hun Manet, who has been backed to succeed his father, has denied the claim, with Hun Sen stating he authorised the $100,000 relief package.

Hun Sen demanded an apology from VOD, but refused to reconsider his decision to revoke its licence even after the outlet later complied.

One of the world’s longest-serving leaders, Hun Sen has increasingly cracked down on dissent as he prepares for polls in July, according to observers.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said on Tuesday the shuttering of VOD “may spell the end for the media environment necessary for credible elections.”

“Hun Sen’s closure of Voice of Democracy is a devastating blow to media freedom in the country and will have an impact across Cambodian society,” he added.

UN human rights chief Volker Turk also called on Hun Sen’s government “to rescind this very troubling decision”.

Press freedoms have long been under attack in Cambodia, with The Cambodia Daily shuttered in 2017 and a score of outlets closed the following year ahead of the 2018 elections. AFP