Cambodia drops ban on foreign-produced radio shows
A supporter of the Cambodian People's Party gives a victory sign during campaigning in Phnom Penh on June 27, 2013. Cambodia on Sunday reversed a ban on local radio stations airing foreign-produced broadcasts in the run-up to next month's general election, following US criticism of the move as an attack on freedom of expression.
Local FM radio stations were this week ordered by the Information Ministry to provide "neutral" coverage of the election campaign and to suspend the broadcasting of Khmer-language programmes made by foreign broadcasters until after the July 28 election.
The edict was criticised by broadcasters and the US State Department, who called it a "serious infringement" of freedom of expression.
But in a U-turn on Sunday the information ministry issued a statement saying it had allowed local radio stations "to resume airing (foreign-produced) programmes as usual".
The ministry said it took the decision following a "request", without elaborating who had asked for the ban to be lifted.
US-funded Radio Free Asia, which produces content in the Khmer language, had called the ban "a blatant strategy to silence the types of disparate and varied voices that characterise an open and free society".
Cambodia on Thursday officially started campaigning for the poll, expected to be won by strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen who is seeking to extend his 28-year grip on the country.
His government is regularly accused of suppressing political freedoms and muzzling activists.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, his main challenger, is barred from running in the polls due to a string of convictions that the opposition says are politically motivated.
Rainsy, who lives in exile in France to avoid prison, faces 11 years in jail if he returns, after he was convicted in absentia on charges that included publishing a "false map" of the border with Vietnam.
Rights groups welcomed the ministry's decision to withdraw the radio ban.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodia Center for Human Rights, said "reason seems to have won the day", adding the government's climbdown has avoided an angry public reaction.
"Such a move (the ban) would have undermined the legitimacy of the election, hence the legitimacy of the next government," he added.
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