The first English-language newspapeer in Cambodia has announced its closure with a defiant front page which warned the country was facing a “descent into outright dictatorship”.
The title launched in 1993 and has been a beacon of independent journalism in a country which is ranked 137 out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index.
RSF reports that Government hostility towards independent media increased in 2016.
The title has been forced to close after being hit last month with a $6.3m tax bill which it was given until yesterday (4 September) to pay.
Cambodian prime minister of three decades Hun Sen described the publishers as “thieves” and told them to pay the bill or else “pack up and go”.
The Daily believes the tax dispute is politically motivated.
Owner Deborah Krisher-Steele said: “In an ordinary process, matters in dispute would be resolved after an audit and private negotiations.
“Instead, the Daily has been targeted for an astronomical tax assessment, leaks and false statements by the tax department and public vilification by the head of government before an audit, much less a legal proceeding.”
US ambassador William Heidt said: “The Daily’s closure removes an important, independent, and daily internationally known voice from Cambodia’s media scene.”
The EU delegation to Cambodia said in a statement: “The enforced closure of the Cambodia Daily represents a significant blow to Cambodia’s media diversity.”
The title was founded by former Newsweek Japan correspondent Bernard Krisher and has a circulation of up to 8,000 copies a day five days a week.
Its masthead promises “all the news without fear or favour” and describes the title as “the daily newspaper of record”.
Writing in The Times today Catherine Philp recalls working for the paper in 1997 during the final collapse of the Khmer Rouge communist regime.
She said the paper was “a labour of love and an incubator for would-be foreign correspondents as well as a legion of Cambodian journalists now reporting on their country for the world’s biggest news agencies”.
She wrote: “Over the years there were many threats to close us. The most memorable, for me, was delivered in person by an apoplectic Hun Sen, who spat in my face as he dressed me down for the misdeeds of the Daily on the tarmac of the airport as we awaited the arrival of King Sihanouk.”
She said the final edition has sold out with home-made photocopies being made to keep up with demand.
Former associate editor at the paper, Alice Foster, told Press Gazette: “I am mourning the loss of The Cambodia Daily.
“For the brave staff who tirelessly kept reporting the news without fear or favour despite facing closure by the government. For the loyal readers who have left touching messages about how the newspaper helped them to learn English and get independent news.
“But perhaps most of all for Cambodia. This shutdown is a dark moment for press freedom at a time when the country needs it most.”