PHNOM PENH, May 9 (Reuters) - As many as 13 foreign journalists have resigned en masse from a Cambodian newspaper, the Phnom Penh Post, in protest at what they called editorial interference following its sale to a Malaysian businessman.
The sale of the English-language newspaper, announced at the weekend, came amid increasing concern about a crackdown by long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen against his critics ahead of a general election set for July 29.
The resignations followed the announcement of the sale of the paper by Australian mining magnate Bill Clough, who has owned it since 2008, to Malaysian investor Sivakumar Ganapathy, whose public relations firm lists Hun Sen as a client.
The resignations of as many as 13 editors and reporters leave no foreign journalists at the paper, which has built a reputation for independent reporting that can be critical of the government on issues such as illegal logging and corruption.
“We did what we felt we had to do to maintain our journalistic integrity,” one of the journalists who resigned, Andrew Nachemson, an American, told Reuters.
“It was a difficult and very personal decision, and I wish all my Cambodian colleagues the best.”
Ganapathy did not immediately respond to telephone calls from Reuters on Wednesday to seek comment.
Erin Handley, a sub-editor, said she was filled with admiration for the staff remaining at the paper.
“Can’t say how much admiration I have for Khmer reporters who are staying, despite everything,” Handley said on social network Twitter.
Representatives of Ganapathy ordered the removal from the newspaper’s website on Monday of an article critical of the sale, several reporters at the paper said.
The incident led to the firing of the editor-in-chief, Kay Kimsong, a Cambodian, after he refused to take down the article, Kimsong told Reuters.
In a statement on Monday, Ganapathy said the article, since removed from the website, was a “disgrace and an insult to the independence claim of the newspaper.”
International rights groups and journalism bodies have said they fear the sale of the paper, founded in 1992, could signal the end of independent media in Cambodia ahead of the July vote.
Another English-language paper, the Cambodia Daily, shut down last year after the government gave its a month to settle a $6.3-million tax bill.
A third English-language paper, the Khmer Times, is owned by another Malaysian. It takes a pro-government stance.
Ganapathy is the managing director of Asia Public Relations Consultants Sdn Bhd, headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, whose website referred to “Cambodia and Hun Sen’s entry into the government seat” as one of its projects.
When a Reuters journalist visited the firm’s office in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, on Tuesday, the door was locked and nobody responded to several rings on the doorbell.
A representative for the firm declined on Tuesday to comment to Reuters on the sale, adding that Ganapathy was travelling abroad for the next two weeks. (Additional reporting by Rozanna Latiff in Kuala Lumpur Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre Editing by Clarence Fernandez)