After losing ground to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party in June’s local elections, it is paranoid that the tide of public opinion is turning against it.
The bill was calculated by the tax department without any audit of the paper’s books, Jodie DeJonge, Cambodia Daily editor-in-chief, told me. The tax office has offered no opportunity to appeal or negotiate.
These radio stations have long been a target of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party because they broadcast programs critical of the government in the local Khmer language. It seems keeping information away from the people is a tactic in the run-up to the 2018 elections.
Leaks detailing assistance given by the institute to the opposition party appeared in Fresh News. Ministers accused it of colluding with the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
However, allegations that the institute and its parent organization, the National Endowment for Democracy, have a secret agenda are not baseless. They have been around since the foundation took over pro-democracy duties from the CIA in 1983.
“I’ve heard rumors for years that the institutes might be recipients of CIA funds,” said political scientist Karen Paget, author of “Patriotic Betrayal: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Secret Campaign to Enroll American Students in the Crusade Against Communism.” “They ought to be held more accountable even if their activities appear to be aboveboard.”
However, the institute’s critics in Cambodia have offered zero evidence that the organization is doing anything more than promoting democracy in a bipartisan manner to all parties. Unless you regard promoting democracy itself as a threatening activity.
It’s the same for the Cambodia Daily tax issue. What if it were a garment factory that had been remiss in paying tax?
The Cambodia Daily has offered to open its books to the tax department but has been ignored, according to DeJonge. Hardly the hallmarks of a typical tax dispute.
Cambodian visa laws are overdue for an overhaul, but given the current climate, journalists and foreign NGO workers are worried that their applications will now be considered by a hostile government. Many are married and have families here, some with local partners.
The changes make it easy for the government to deny visas to free-lance journalists and correspondents who displease them. There has been no statement from the government on the changes, which only adds to a growing atmosphere of menace that many expect to thicken as the 2018 general elections draw closer.