Cambodian Government Blocks Access To Independent Media Outlets

Published: 04 August 2023

Hun Sen Cambodia PMPrime Minister Hun Sen launched a war against independent journalism, according to Reporters Without Borders. (Photo: Jean Marc Ferré/UNCTAD, Flickr, License)

By Erika Di Benedetto

The Cambodian government has ordered internet service providers in the country to block access to the websites and social media accounts of three major independent media outlets for allegedly publishing content harmful to society, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

The Cambodia Daily Khmer, Radio Free Asia, and Kamnotra were taken off the internet in line with a July 2023 directive to block media websites considered by the government to be disseminating “misleading news affecting the honor and reputation of the Royal Government.”

The directive builds upon a pattern that started in May 2018 with the adoption of the Inter-Ministerial Prakas (proclamation) on Website and Social Media Control.

This proclamation requires all internet service providers to install surveillance software to monitor content circulated on the internet. Under this proclamation, the Post and Telecommunications Ministry have been granted the authority to take action against web pages and social media accounts that contain content deemed illegal or harmful to society.

According to Voice of America, only one week prior to the national election on July 23, an official letter obtained by VOA Khmer revealed that the Telecommunications Regulator of Cambodia, an organization under the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, instructed internet service providers to block certain domains.

Specifically, the letter stated that the blocking was necessary because the news reporting of the media outlets could “create confusion, affect the government’s honor and prestige, and fail to fulfill the operating conditions of the Information Ministry.”

The letter ordered the blocking of Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube accounts associated with independent media outlets Cambodia Daily Khmer and Radio Free Asia that operate independently under the U.S. Agency for Global Media and distribute news in both Khmer and English.

Furthermore, the government has also taken steps to block the Twitter account and website of Kamnotra, a new database associated with Voice of Democracy, which was previously closed by the government.

According to Reporters Without Borders, Cambodia experienced a decline in press freedom when “the long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen launched a ruthless war against independent journalism before the 2018 elections.”

In 2018, “thirty independent radio stations were forced to shut down. Among them was VOD, the Voice of Democracy, whose programs were re-transmitted by local stations, thereby playing a major role in the dissemination of independent information, especially in the countryside.”

In 2017, The Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh — not affiliated with the Cambodia Daily LLC — was also shut down, “over allegations that it had not paid millions of dollars in taxes” as reported by The New York Times.

Furthermore, The Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh was sold to buyers who were sympathetic to the government's interests.

The targeting of media continued during the 2023 elections period, leading to a more closed environment.

The United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, expressed concern that “these restrictions and other intimidatory measures created a chilling effect that deprived people of credible sources of news and information when they needed to make informed choices in the exercise of their democratic rights.”