A crusading Cambodian paper calls out the country’s “descent into outright dictatorship” on its last day

Image: EPA/Mak Remissa
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The Cambodia Daily published its final edition Monday (Sept. 4) after a particularly dark turn of events over the weekend in the country.

The English-language newspaper, widely known for reporting on issues that many other media outlets shy away from in Cambodia, was forced to closed down after the government slapped $6.3 million in back taxes on the newspaper last month, a claim the paper has contested as being “politically motivated.”

The 24-year-old paper went out with a resounding cry on its last day, castigating the recent and swift downturn in civil liberties in Cambodia. Just one day before the newspaper’s final day of publication, police arrested Kem Sokha (paywall), leader of the Cambodian opposition, on charges of treason. The Cambodia Daily splashed with the story on the front page of its final edition:

In addition to being a publication where many local reporters and foreign correspondents cut their teeth in the years following Cambodia’s emergence from the dark days of the Khmer Rouge regime, overthrown in 1979, the Cambodia Daily was also one of the few media outlets that challenged the increasingly authoritarian government of prime minister Hun Sen, who has occupied that position for more than three decades and faces an election next year. The Cambodian government has shut down numerous radio stations in recent weeks, and has also accused Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, both linked to the US government, of failing to pay taxes.

“There are only two well-known English newspaper that have gained trust of the people, you and your across-the-road comrade, the Phnom Penh Post,” wrote Chansambath Bong, a recent college graduate in Phnom Penh, in response to the paper’s closure. “It was you who kept me and other countless Cambodians, who are sick and tired of hearing overpraised statements and one-sided commentary broadcasted on TV, informed about what is really happening in this Kingdom of Endless Wonders.”

For others, it was also a way of learning English.

The Phnom Penh Post had the following words to say about its cross-town rival:

The Daily’s impact was certainly not lost on the Post, where every morning reporters and editors make a beeline to grab the morning copy of their cross-town rivals. The ritual of perusing the Daily for scoops or exclusives was not just an act of self-flagellation; it was also an acknowledgement that a vibrant and competitive press strengthened independent journalism in the Kingdom.