On Monday, February 13, 2023, Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the closure of the Voice of Democracy (VOD), one of Cambodia’s last remaining independent media outlets, after a report by VOD that the deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Army Hun Manet, who is also the eldest son of Hun Sen, had signed off on foreign aid packages outside of his authority. According to Hun Sen, this report had damaged the Cambodian government’s reputation, and demanded for an apology.

Free speech and expression are critical to achieving true democracy and holding power to account. With Cambodia’s upcoming national elections in July of this year, this shutdown is an attempt to control the public narrative. Rather than closing an independent media outlet, a democratic government should have conducted an investigation into the alleged unauthorized signing off of foreign aid. Media repression disables the press to fulfill its duty as the fourth estate to be society’s watchdog and whistleblower against government violations, abuse, and corruption. Free and independent journalists are needed to keep the people informed, defend the truth and ensure accountability.

The Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism condemns the attacks against independent media outlets and the continued harassment of journalists in Cambodia. The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration states that “[e]very person has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information, whether orally, in writing or through any other medium of that person’s choice.”[1] This should not only be words on paper.

We urge the Cambodian government to uphold its commitment to the ASEAN Charter to adhere to the rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy and constitutional government by ceasing and desisting from all forms of attacks against independent media outlets, and enabling a safe environment for journalists.[2]

We call upon the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to respond with immediate and appropriate action and fulfill its mandate to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of the peoples of ASEAN.

We also call on all ASEAN member states to stand by their commitments to and call for greater press freedom in the region.


[1] ASEAN Human Rights Declaration

[2] ASEAN Charter