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‘Authoritarianism’ Helps Cambodia Plummet on Press Freedom Index

Cambodian supporters of Mam Sonando, one of Cambodia’s most prominent human rights defenders, protest in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, in Phnom Penh, file photo.
PHNOM PENH - Reporters Without Borders said Wednesday that the media climate in Cambodia is in critical condition, with the country falling 26 places on the group’s annual press freedom index.

Cambodia ranks 143rd out of 179 countries worldwide on the group’s 2013 index, a plummet of its ranking last year and its worst ranking to date.

Rights workers have said 2012 was one of the worst years for the country, following the jailing and intimidation of journalists, rights workers and other government critics.

Beehive Radio owner Mam Sonando is currently serving a 20-year sentence, on charges that critics say resulted after he criticized Prime Minister Hun Sen. Environmentalist Chut Wutty was killed in April 2012, while escorting journalists to examine illegal logging in Koh Kong province.

Cambodia fell in with a number of countries under the index’s “big falls,” due to limited access to information and because “authoritarianism and censorship are on the increase,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“Since 2011, news organizations, in particular independent local and foreign radio stations, have been subjected to a policy of censorship orchestrated by an increasingly ruthless information ministry,” the group said in a statement. “The decline in freedom of information also involved deadly attacks and death threats aimed at journalists who exposed government corruption and illegal activities harmful to the environment.”

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

However, Chhay Sophal, a training officer at the Cambodia Club of Journalists, said Cambodia’s media environment was better than that of its neighbors.

“The media has the freedom to write their articles,” he said. “We have media supported by the government and the opposition and some independent media.”