Authorities in Cambodia ordered a non-governmental network of more than 550 rural schools to shut down, apparently because of its relationship with a newspaper that has criticized the country’s government, RFA has learned.

The independent, nonprofit schools were established by Japan Relief for Cambodia and World Assistance for Cambodia (JRfC-WAfC). They provided English classes and computer training to rural students from low-income families, the network said on its website.

Local news outlet CamboJA reported that a Feb. 2 letter from Cambodia’s Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron, shared by teachers this week on Facebook, ordered the organization to cease operations.

The minister told RFA’s Khmer Service Thursday that the Education Ministry asked JRfC-WAfC to stop operating the schools because it is affiliated with the Cambodia Daily, an English language newspaper that often criticized the government of Hun Sen and was shuttered in Cambodia in 2017 on allegations that it hadn’t paid millions of U.S. dollars in back taxes.

The Cambodia Daily continues to operate online and broadcasts in the Khmer language from a location in the U.S.

Even though JRfC-WAfC may no longer operate out of Cambodia, the schools that built by the NGO are still allowed to remain open since they were donated to the government after construction, the minister said.

The programs provided by the NGO will no longer be available, however, a fact that Ouk Chhayavy, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, lamented.

“We are sad about the closure because the NGO helped many poor students,” she said.

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