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Dictator Hun Sen shuts down Cambodia’s VOD broadcaster

Cambodia’s prime minister, Hun Sen, has ordered the closure of one of the country’s few independent media organisations, a move condemned as a blatant attempt to “slam the door” on what remains of the free press in the country.

Hun Sen, who has ruled for more than 35 years, said Voice of Democracy (VOD) would no longer have a licence to publish or broadcast from 10am local time on Monday. He accused the outlet of attacking him and his son, and hurting the “dignity and reputation” of the Cambodian government following an article it published last week on aid sent by Cambodia to Turkey.

The story claimed Hun Sen’s son, Hun Manet, had signed an aid agreement to donate $100,000 to Turkey – an apparent overstep of his authority.

Hun Sen has voiced his support for Hun Manet – now joint chief of staff and deputy commander for the country’s armed forces – as a potential successor.

Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, described the decision to close the outlet at “flimsy and absurd” and said the Cambodian people had now lost “one of the last remaining independent muckraking, anti-corruption media outlets”.

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In the past, VOD has doggedly investigated corruption and human rights issues in Cambodia, including reporting extensively on the rise of scam compounds, where human trafficking victims are duped and trapped working for online scam operations, in conditions a UN expert likened to “living hell”.

“No one should underestimate the revenge component of this decision,” said Robertson, adding that VOD had been at the forefront of exposing official complicity in such cyber-scam syndicates, which have made Cambodia “synonymous with the latest, sinister form of 21st century slavery”.

Under Hun Sen’s rule, independent newspapers and websites have been closed, opposition figures jailed or forced into exile while legislation that restricts civil freedom has been adopted.

In a report last year the Office of the United Nations high commissioner for Human Rights warned the country’s media was in “a perilous state”, adding that journalists working in the country faced various forms of harassment and pressure, including through the criminal justice system.

The UN report said the country’s media landscape underwent a seismic shift when the Cambodia Daily and RFA were closed, in 2017 and 2018. The Phnom Penh Post was also sold to the owner of a Malaysian PR company, a major blow for press freedom.

A spokesperson for Amnesty’s regional office said Hun Sen’s order to close VOD was “a blatant attempt to slam the door on what’s left of independent media in the country”. It was also, it added, a clear warning to other critical voices months before national elections, which are due to be held in July.

“Arbitrarily shutting down an outspoken media organization will have an immediate chilling effect on anyone who still dares to ask questions about the actions of the Cambodian government. It also comes against a backdrop of ongoing repression against anyone remotely critical of the Prime Minister and his family,” Amnesty said. (

Hun Sen had given VOD a 72 hour deadline to verify the facts with the Information Ministry and to apologise. The Cambodian Center for Independent Media, the NGO that runs VOD, issued a letter saying it was sorry for any confusion, and explained that VOD’s article had cited a government spokesperson. However, Hun Sen said the letter was not acceptable.

Amnesty added: “The order to close [VOD] puts the Cambodian public’s access to information at risk now that the government has removed another obstacle along its road to complete control of the country.” The Guardian

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