Amid increasing restrictions on civic space and press freedoms in Cambodia, journalists are increasingly subjected to various forms of harassment, pressure and violence, according to a new report published on Wednesday by the United Nations Office of Human Rights (OHCHR).
All 65 journalists interviewed in The state of press freedom in Cambodia They said they had encountered some form of interference with their course of action – and more than 80 percent described being placed on probation, and faced disproportionate or unnecessary restrictions, including access to information.
“The findings in this report are deeply disturbing, and I urge the authorities to adopt our recommendations to ensure that the media does their vital work fairly and transparently for the benefit of all Cambodians,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Michelle Bachelet.
shrinking civic space
In the report, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia outlined the country’s growing lack of press freedom and freedom of expression, by examining the legal framework; media ownership status; and the particular challenges faced by female media workers.
Over the years, Cambodian authorities have actively adopted legislation restricting civic space in general, and freedom of the press in particular, the report explained.
Furthermore, laws and other tools have been adopted to enable authorities to censor, put journalists and others under surveillance, and expand the government’s ability to limit media work and freedom of expression through the courts.
Secretary-General António Guterres has noted that shrinking civic space is often a precursor to a general deterioration of human rights.
freedom of the press
Freedom of the press is of particular importance in the context of the recent elections, according to the report.
A free press plays a vital role in ensuring that voters can inform themselves of the issues at hand and allow candidates to convey their messages to voters.
“By ensuring that the press can report freely and safely, authorities are helping to create an environment for political participation and debate,” the report explained.
Women Journalists Challenges
press freedom case It also highlights the plight of women journalists, who she said have very little representation in Cambodia.
According to the Ministry of Information, there are only 470 women out of about 5,000 female journalists. This equates to less than one in ten journalists.
The report highlights that many female journalists and media workers have been subjected to gender-based attacks, including physical harassment by policemen and authorities, gender-based discrimination and violence rooted in discriminatory practices and social norms.
Since January 2017, the UN Human Rights Office in Cambodia has documented cases of 23 journalists who have faced criminal charges of misrepresentation, defamation or incitement as a result of their work.
Open laws such as the COVID-19 Anti-Spreading Act and the 2022 sub-decree on the creation of the government’s national internet portal give the government sweeping powers to withhold information and punish unspecified crimes, and should be repealed, he added.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that the report makes 15 recommendations aimed at providing a safer, more pluralistic and gender-sensitive workspace for media workers, adding that it is ready to provide the necessary support to the government in its implementation.
One recommendation urges publicizing the number of women journalists, and another calls for proactive measures to increase these numbers, including through university programs and scholarships.
OHCHR also calls for cases against journalists and media workers to be dropped, as they are simply exercising their rights to freedom of expression.
“Free, independent and pluralistic media play a central role in every democratic society,” said the High Commissioner. “When we defend media freedom, we defend justice, good governance and human rights.”
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