Cambodia Daily to close in media crackdown

Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha casts his ballot in local elections at a polling station in Phnom Penh

Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha casts his ballot in local elections at a polling station in Phnom Penh

Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested in a police raid on his home early yesterday as Prime Minister Hun Sen accused him of treason with the backing of the United States. "This requires arrest", Hun Sen told a group of garment workers, according to the pro-government Fresh News website.

Kem Sokha was arrested at his house in a police swoop at 00:35 AM on September 3. "And after 24 years, one month and 15 days, the Cambodian government has destroyed The Cambodia Daily, a special and singular part of Cambodia's free press", the newspaper said in a statement. Details of the alleged plot have not been made public.

The clip, which was released by the government yesterday, was published on YouTube by the Australia-based Cambodia Broadcasting Network in 2013.

The U.S. State Department expressed "grave concern" at Sokha's arrest on charges it said appeared to be politically motivated.

The English-language paper had been given a deadline of one month to pay $6.3 million for years of back taxes, which the publication disputed and described as "astronomical".

The government said the video clip and other evidence collected by authorities clearly indicated the conspiracy between Sokha and his accomplices with a foreign power, which harms Cambodia.

Legal threats forced Kem Sokha's predecessor, Sam Rainsy, to resign this year from the Cambodia National Rescue Party he once led.

If Kem Sokha is found guilty of any offence, it could allow the government to shut the party under a new law that forbids parties from having a leader who has been convicted.

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The opposition party lost to Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party in local elections in June, but it did well enough to increase expectations of a close contest in the 2018 vote.

"These measures undercut Cambodia's progress in recent decades and raise serious questions about the government's ability to organise credible national elections in 2018 which produce an outcome that enjoys democratic legitimacy", said the U.S. embassy. Sen's son Hun Manith repeated the claim on Twitter.

"For 33 years, Hun Sen has used violence, threats, corruption and bogus legal charges to stay in power, and in the last year has been intensifying his attacks on civil society and the political opposition", Sifton said in a statement.

The government appeared to have based part of its claims against Kem Sokha on a video clip that shows the opposition leader giving a public speech in which he describes a grassroots political strategy to challenge Hun Sen with U.S. support.

Its final headline, on the arrest of Kem Sokha, was "Descent Into Outright Dictatorship".

"It's our livelihood, our mission and our passion to put out the news, but it's a small part of what's going on in Cambodia today", said Jodie DeJonge, The Daily's editor in chief. USA non-profit the National Democratic Institute and at least one other US charity were expelled from the country.

Last month, Cambodia expelled the Washington-based National Democratic Institute and ordered local radio stations to stop broadcasting reports from the United States government-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.

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