Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Ahead of 2023 Elections, Press Freedom Continues to Lag, CCHR Says

Journalists cover a post-Asean summit press conference given by Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh on November 13, 2022, in a photograph posted to the prime minister's Facebook page. VOD and VOA journalists were not permitted entry.
Journalists cover a post-Asean summit press conference given by Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh on November 13, 2022, in a photograph posted to the prime minister's Facebook page. VOD and VOA journalists were not permitted entry.

Cambodia’s levels of freedom of expression, press and access to information remain low, and the work environment for journalists and human rights defenders is “increasingly dangerous,” the Cambodian Center for Human Rights said in a report released Thursday. 

The government needs to urgently address the country’s “declining situation of freedom of expression,” and Cambodia “has a long way to go before the right to access information is upheld,” CCHR said in its annual State of Freedom of Expression, Press Freedom and Access to Information report.

The local rights watchdog said the “unsatisfactory” situation regarding access to information was especially concerning in the run-up to parliamentary elections in July next year.

Houn Phan, a project coordinator at CCHR, said comparing the organization’s reports from last year and this year showed no improvement in freedom of the press and expression.

“We see that there is no progress,” he told reporters during a press conference.

In addition to repressive or delayed legislation, such as the long-awaited Law on Access to Information, intimidation, surveillance, threats and judicial harassment were “used on a regular basis to target those who dare to speak up,” with journalists and activists the main targets of the government, the new report said.

At least 20 journalists faced legal action from September 2021 to August 2022, with 14 detained and two convicted over their reporting. Thirteen human rights defenders faced legal action in the same period, with four detained and four convicted.

“Journalists continued to struggle to access information held by public officials,” CCHR said, adding that 20 judgments were published in the one-year period but court transparency remained poor.

CCHR interviewed 18 journalists and five human rights defenders, as well as compiled data from media and incident reports.

Ten of the 18 journalists surveyed said the threat of legal action was one of the greatest threats to press freedom in the country today.

During the reporting period, the government revoked four media licenses over alleged violations of journalistic professional ethics and contracts, and self-censorship continued to rise, CCHR said.

Seven of the 18 journalists interviewed said they self-censor, avoiding publishing information that could anger ruling elites.

Rights violations against journalists and reporting challenges centered on a number of “sensitive” topics, such as land and labor disputes, environmental destruction and corruption.

Of the eight women journalists surveyed, six reported facing difficulties carrying out their work due to their gender, including sexual harassment and challenges in gathering information, especially in the field.

To better ensure freedoms of expression, press and access to information, the government should discard or amend problematic laws, release and drop charges against journalists and rights defenders, as well as investigate crimes against them, and ensure officials disclose government-held information freely, CCHR said.

Information Ministry spokesperson Meas Sophorn said CCHR’s latest report was nothing new, and showed a political agenda that deliberately misled the public and international opinion about the real situation in the country, without attempting deep research into the issues.

“This report does not reflect the actual situation of the performance of the roles and responsibilities of journalists in the Kingdom of Cambodia,” he said, adding that the draft Access to Information Law was in progress.

But after more than 10 years of work on the draft law, it had yet to be passed, despite civil society groups working with the government to complete it, said Hang Samphors, head of the Cambodian Women’s Journalism Group.

Generally, Samphors said freedom of expression in Cambodia continued to be restricted and the country had a small number of independent media institutions.

“In short, regarding the right to freedom of expression, the right to information and the freedom of the press, we need to be much better,” she said.

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