In the past, English language newspapers have been left alone by the government, but a sudden demand for tax payments directed at the Cambodian Daily indicates that the situation has changed.
You have to pay six million dollars in tax. That was the message given to the Cambodian Daily the same week that Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly attacked the newspaper.
In a speech in a park in the capital city Phnom Penh, the prime minister denounced the founder of the Cambodian Daily who is an American journalist. Hun Sen accused him of being a thief and that he should pack his bags and leave if the newspaper was unable to pay the tax before the September 4, which at the time was less than two weeks away.
Last week the department of finance announced that two other independent media outlets, Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, similarly would be required to pay added taxes.
The English language Cambodian Daily is one of few media in Cambodia that raises sensitive political issues and deals with the extensive corruption in the country.
In the past, English language newspapers have been left alone by the government, but the sudden demand for tax payments directed at the Cambodian Daily indicates that the situation has changed.
The government has also acted against several organisations that work with human rights issues in the country.
On Wednesday last week, the foreign minister of Cambodia unexpectedly decreed that all foreign nationals working for the US organisation the National Democratic Institute were to leave the country within one week.
The US aid organisation aims to strengthen democratic institutions all over the world, acting in about 70 different countries. The Cambodian authorities accuse the National Democratic Institute of acting illegally in the country as they were not registered.
”What we are most concerned about is the risk that the government is planning to follow China’s lead and introduce an NGO law,” according to Erik Andersson of the Swedish union IF Metall.
In his role as international secretary at IF Metall, Erik Andersson expresses his concern to Arbete Global, for the possible impact on the project for increased union engagement that is undertaken by IF Metall together with IndustriAll Global Union. Worries are that Swedish organisations too will be targeted.
” [A NGO-law] would mean that foreign financing of organisations would be forbidden, which could have negative repercussions on our work to support the independent unions in Cambodia.”
The timing of these tough measures directed at media and aid organisations, is explained by many experts as a response to the increasing political unrest in the country.
In June, local elections were held in Cambodia. The results were a clear indication that opposition to the government had increased and with upcoming national elections in July of next year, it has unsettled the incumbent regime.
During the spring, Arbetet Global reported on the introduction of legislation in Cambodia that has diminished the freedom of action for independent unions. On paper, the country is a democracy but it has only had one single person as leader over the past 30 years, Prime Minister Hun Sen.
As the leader of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), he took power when the party was put into government following the Vietnam invasion of 1979. That invasion removed the Khmer Rouge and their leader Pol Pot from power, which had been a period of terror with millions of Cambodians killed.
The CPP became a safeguard from a return of the Khmer Rouge. Over the years, their political power has grown into an intricate and corrupt system in which party officials and private business are in close connection.
Cambodia ranks as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and is on 156th place of 176 in the corruption index that Transparency international compile every year.
Disapproval of the corrupt system is also part of the explanation for the increasing disapproval of the government as the elections draw nearer.