PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - An independent English-language newspaper in Cambodia said on Sunday it was ceasing publication after Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government ordered it to pay a huge tax bill amid a growing campaign against critical voices ahead of next year’s election.
The Cambodia Daily, known for critical coverage of issues such as corruption, human rights and the environment, was ordered to shut down if it could not pay $6.3 million to cover 10 years of back taxes by Monday.
“It will cease publication as of September 4, 2017,” the newspaper said. “After 24 years and 15 days, the Cambodian government has destroyed The Cambodia Daily, a special and singular part of Cambodia’s free press.”
The publication was founded in 1993 by an American journalist, making it a particular target for Hun Sen, who has accused the United States of plotting with the opposition against his government.
Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than three decades and has shown no signs of willingness to relinquish power, last month stepped up attacks on the media and non-governmental organizations.
His Cambodian People’s Party won local elections in June, but the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) also did well, increasing expectations of a close contest in the coming general election.
Opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested in a police raid on his home early on Sunday after Hun Sen accused him of treason with the backing of the United States.
In a speech on Sunday, Hun Sen defended his deadline to The Cambodia Daily to pay its taxes, according to pro-government news outlet Fresh News.
“When we tax them, they said we shut down press freedom,” Hun Sen was quoted as saying. “When doing businesses, you have to pay tax. But when they didn’t pay and we asked them to leave the country, they said we are a dictatorship,” he added.
Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Yimou Lee and Matthew Tostevin