NEW rules for media introduced by the Cambodian government in the lead up to next month’s election could impose sweeping restrictions that prevent journalists reporting on controversial issues, UN rights monitors warned on Friday.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, who will be running in the July 29 election without any credible opposition, has mounted a broad campaign against dissent and said this month his administration was watching out for any online news that causes “instability.”
Authorities have also promised to “control news content” while the National Election Committee has issued a code of conduct banning journalists from expressing opinions and from publishing news that affects national security.
— United Nations Cambodia (@UNCambodia) June 15, 2018
Journalists have also been barred from conducting interviews at polling stations on election day.
“These prohibitions use broad and imprecise terminology that could lead to sweeping restrictions on the media that would be incompatible with international standards,” Rhona Smith and David Kaye, both UN Special Rapporteurs, said in a statement issued in Phnom Penh.
“Journalists have a responsibility to report on many issues in the run-up to an election, in particular controversial issues,” they said.
The rapporteurs urged Cambodia to respect press freedom.
A spokesman for the election committee, Hang Puthea, dismissed the concerns, saying media guidelines were aimed at ensuring the election goes smoothly.
Their concerns come a month after the take-over of one of Cambodia’s last remaining independent newspapers, the Phnom Penh Post, by an owner linked to the government.
There was an exodus of staff after the new owner fired the editor in chief.
Statement from the Phnom Penh Post's new owner in which he outlines the termination with "immediate effect" of three reporters and the paper's editor in chief. pic.twitter.com/TcGZH24h3u
— Amy Sawitta Lefevre (@MimiSawitta) May 7, 2018
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was dissolved by a court last November at the government’s request, has urged voters to boycott the vote.
The UN experts said voting was not compulsory.
“Whatever the nature of the election, all human rights must be respected and ensured. We encourage the Cambodian authorities to ensure that all people are freely able to express their political views and opinions, including on the option of abstaining,” they said.
The CNRP leader is in jail, on what he says is a politically motivated charge, while most of his senior colleagues are in exile, raising concern among aid donors in the West that some 25 years of effort to build democratic institutions have come to nothing.
Additional reporting from Reuters.