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Amid growing restrictions on civic space and press freedom in Cambodia, journalists are increasingly subject to various forms of harassment, pressure and violence, according to a new report released Wednesday by the Office United Nations Human Rights (OHCHR).

All 65 journalists interviewed in the State of press freedom in Cambodia said they had faced some form of interference in the course of their work – and more than 80 per cent described being placed under surveillance, facing disproportionate or unnecessary restrictions, including access to information .

“The findings of this report are deeply concerning, and I urge the authorities to heed our recommendations to ensure that the media can carry out their vital work in a fair and transparent manner for the benefit of all Cambodians,” the High Commissioner said. United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights. , Michelle Bachelet.

Civic space is shrinking

In the report, OHCHR Cambodia highlighted the growing lack of press freedom and freedom of expression in the country, examining the legal framework; the state of media ownership; and the specific challenges faced by women media workers.

For years, Cambodian authorities have actively passed legislation restricting civic space in general, and press freedom in particular, the report notes.

In addition, laws and other instruments have been adopted to empower authorities to censor and place journalists and others under surveillance and expand the government’s ability to restrict the work of the media and freedom of expression through the courts. .

Shrinking civic space is often the prelude to a more general deterioration in human rights, observed Secretary-General António Guterres.

freedom of the press

Press freedom 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 about the issues at stake and enable candidates to convey their messages to the electorate.

“By ensuring that the press can report freely and safely, authorities help create an environment conducive to political participation and debate,” the report said.

The challenges of female journalists

state of press freedom also highlights the plight of female journalists, who she says are grossly underrepresented in Cambodia.

According to the Ministry of Information, only 470 of approximately 5,000 journalists are women. This equates to less than one in ten journalists.

Many female journalists and media workers face gender-based attacks, the report points out, including physical harassment by male police and authorities, gender-based discrimination and violence rooted in practices discrimination and social norms.

Since January 2017, the UN Human Rights Office in Cambodia has documented cases involving 23 journalists who faced criminal charges for disinformation, defamation or incitement as a result of their work.

Open-ended laws such as the Anti-Spread of COVID-19 Act and the National Internet Gateway Sub-Order of 2022, give the government sweeping powers to block information and punish non-specific crimes, and should be repealed, he added.

Recommendations

The report makes 15 recommendations aimed at providing a safer, more pluralistic and gender-sensitive operating space for media workers, the OHCHR said, adding that it stands ready to provide the necessary support to the government to implement them.

One recommendation urges that the number of women journalists be published, and another calls for proactive measures to increase this number, including through academic programs and scholarships.

OHCHR is also calling for the dropping of charges against journalists and media professionals for simply exercising their rights to freedom of expression.

“Free, independent and pluralistic media play a central role in any democratic society,” said the High Commissioner. “When we stand up for media freedom, we stand up for justice, good governance and human rights.”

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