Cambodia’s information ministry Friday threatened Radio Free Asia journalists with arrest if they continue to report for the U.S.-funded broadcaster after it closed its bureau in Phnom Penh last week.
Ouk Kimseng, an information ministry spokesman, said in a speech that the government would not attempt to restrict RFA from continuing to broadcast from its base in Washington, DC, but that it would no longer be legal for RFA reporters to work in the country.
He claimed RFA “incited” people against the Cambodian government, adding that since RFA announced it was temporarily closing its bureau in Cambodia, its staff were “working in the dark”.
Khieu Sopheak, an interior spokesman, said ministry officials would no longer respond to interview requests from RFA reporters and would seek to take legal action against RFA journalists if a request was submitted by the information ministry.
“If the person is found guilty, they will be punished for several months. If the information ministry makes a request, we will fully co-operate,” he said.
Rohit Mahajan, RFA’s director of public affairs and digital strategy, did not immediately respond to an interview request.
Judith Clarke, a journalism professor at the Baptist University of Hong Kong, who has researched the media in Cambodia, said the closure of RFA in Cambodia would “perhaps not be remarkable if not for the fact that it is part of the ongoing crackdown on dissent.”
“The Cambodian constitution guarantees press freedom and the country has in the past respected this to some extent, but is now moving into a dictatorship,” she added.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said in an email: “With the office closure, all these professional reporters have now become free-lance and they should be allowed to report on what they want for who they want without any interference from the Cambodia government.”