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#51 - Drink a Beer
Darker time for Cambodia's independent media
Sou Sdei and welcome to Campuccino, your fortnightly dispatch of key headlines in Cambodia with a dash of opinion.
To new subscribers, welcome!
Hello from Singapore! I am here this week for a quick break from Phnom Penh and to catch up with some friends. Being here is always a vast contrast to where I live, but I enjoy the sidewalks, the low-cost public transportation, and the green space where I can breathe a little. I know people have mixed opinions about Singapore but for me, trees are trees, and I will take some over none. I was very excited about this trip but little did I know that some shitstorm was brewing at home resulting in a very upsetting chain of events. Read on my friends as I am pouring my frustration out to you.
In this issue: VOD’s closure, more environmental impact news, and scam compound in Bokor mountain.
Before we are going into any news, I want to talk about VOD, one of the major independent news sources in Cambodia. I rely heavily on VOD to educate myself about what is going on in the country and, through this newsletter, relay that information to you all. Therefore, when I heard that the PM ordered VOD’s media license to be revoked over something that seemed very unreasonable, I was disheartened. I would be lying if I said I was surprised, though. VOD websites in both English and Khmer are also blocked by some mobile networks and internet service providers in Cambodia. Hence, for readers in Cambodia, if you have trouble accessing any VOD links I mentioned here, please use a VPN to access them and continue to show your support.
In my country where rule of law is somewhat fluid, you can get in trouble for merely existing if the people in power say so. In Cambodia, more often than not, you can not use logic and you cannot reason with the powerful, many of whom are supposed to serve you, protect you, and find you justice. I find it exhausting and soul-crushing, especially as I am watching it from afar without being able to show up for support for the people whose hard work I admire, value, and hold dear. So, where am I going with this, and where to from here? I honestly do not know. While some people seem to utilise what little optimism they have left hoping that the decision can be reversed through negotiation, I know how important “face-saving” culture is in Cambodia, especially among the leaders. Realistically, I cannot see how VOD can come out of this but I hope that the independent community perseveres in one way or another. That is all I have left: hope in the strength and value upheld by our independent journalists and those working for the same cause.
As a Cambodian relying on VOD to get quality news, I have been going through the seven stages of grief in the last 3 days of this unfortunate event. I thought you might find it interesting to see what the international communities and embassies in the country have to say: 🇦🇺 concerned; 🇨🇦 deeply concerned; 🇪🇺 deeply concerned; 🇫🇷 great concern; 🇩🇪 highly concerned; 🇬🇧 concerned; 🇺🇸 deeply troubled; 🇺🇳 OHCHR: alarmed.
The privatisation of Cambodia’s islands does not seem to slow down. Dominating the local conversation for this past week was the immediate order for residents and private businesses in Koh Rong Sanloem to evacuate. Known for its postcard-perfect white sand beaches and laid-back atmosphere, Koh Rong Sonlem is not some unknown tucked-away island. The news came as a surprise to many, myself included. Read the full news report on the island’s development by Keat Soriththeavy and Daneille Keeton-Olsen for VOD here.
Over in Kep, it appears that the beautification project of the province for the upcoming SEA Games has cost former Cambodia’s Hampton all of its beachfront trees. Kep provincial authorities didn’t seem to see the trees’ significance and instead destroyed them from the root to make way for some concrete slabs.
Lastly, I knew about the scam operations in Sihanouk province but did not know about the one on Kampot’s Bokor mountain. Apparently, the Bokor compound is known to have housed scam groups as early as 2018 but little was known about the operations. This CamboJA article on the Bokor scam operation and its link to one of the country’s most powerful tycoons is the one you are going to want to read. So, buckle up, because it is a wild one.
Arts & Culture
📖 Circulating around Cambodia last week was live footage of Daun Penh authorities ordering a group of youth who hosted a free reading weekend activity in a public area of Botum Park to cease their activity without any specific reason. When the youth behind the camera asked for an explanation from one of the authorities, none was given, and he kept saying she should seek permission from the district governor and from the Council of Ministers. Yes, I was as dumbstruck as you are. It is beyond ridiculous.
🎞️ The European Film Festival returns to Phnom Penh this year starting on February 17. The festival will contain 10 days of screening at various venues across the city. Do check it out if you are in town.
Campuccino is a fortnightly dispatch of key headlines in Cambodia, written by @DarathteyDin.
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