Two Cambodian journalists, who had worked for U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia and are charged with espionage, were released on bail on Aug. 21.
Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, who is better known by his professional name of Yeang Socheameta, were arrested last November and charged with undermining national security by supplying information to a foreign state.
Their arrests came during Cambodia’s crackdown on the media and political opponents before last month’s general election. Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party swept the results in a vote widely seen as not fair or credible.
Last September, Radio Free Asia closed its office in Cambodia after operating for 20 years, citing unprecedented government intimidation of the media. By the end of last year, the government had closed more than a dozen radio stations, some of which had rebroadcast Radio Free Asia’s programs, and the English-language The Cambodia Daily newspaper was forced to shut down.
The Phnom Penh Post, regarded as the country’s last remaining independent newspaper, was sold to Sivakumar S. Ganapathy, a Malaysian businessman. When its staff published an investigation into the new owner’s ties to Hun Sen and the Cambodian government, the editor in chief and the reporters who worked on the story were fired or resigned after refusing to take down the article. A subsequent exodus of staffers, particularly the expats, depleted the newsroom. Since then, the reporters who remained have had controversial stories spiked or have had to censor their own articles in order to comply with the new owner’s wishes.
In Cambodia and across Southeast Asia, it’s become increasingly difficult for reporters to do their jobs. In Reporters Without Borders’ 2018 press-freedom index of 180 countries, Cambodia ranks at 142 — it dropped 10 places in just one year.
In the United States, censorship is not an option, thanks to the Constitution. There is a reason that the First Amendment is first.
Ben Franklin wrote, “Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins.”
President Trump’s emphasis on “fake news” and his attacks on the press as the “enemy of the people” is a danger to our freedom.
Heed The Washington Post’s slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”