Cambodia’s New Online Media Directive Criticized as ‘Censorship’

12 June, 2018

A group of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has criticized a Cambodian government working group set up to monitor and "control" online news.

A statement signed by 117 NGOs condemns the creation of the group. It was formed through a "prakas" -- a declaration issued by a government minister.

The working group was formed by Cambodia's ministries of information, interior and posts and telecommunications. A government announcement last week said the working group is aimed at "controlling all dissemination of information" found to "threaten the defense and security of the nation."

It would also seek to block information considered a threat to "relations with other countries, the economy or public order" or that "discriminates against the country's customs and traditions."

The government declaration gives the ministries the power to take action against people violating the rules. It also permits the government to act against internet service providers.

Teachers and students participate in a campaign by the National Election Committee, NEC, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, May 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
Teachers and students participate in a campaign by the National Election Committee, NEC, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, May 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

The ministry of posts and telecommunications will require all internet service providers to use software and other tools to monitor internet usage, the announcement said. The software should be able to "filter or block any websites, accounts or social media pages" considered illegal.

The statement by the NGOs criticizes the declaration, which it says "threatens the privacy rights and freedom of expression of every single internet and social media user in Cambodia."

Among those signing the letter were the rights group Licadho and the election watchdog Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia.

The NGOs dismissed the declaration's list of "illegal" content. They called the working group "a clear case of government overreach and censorship."

The NGOs noted that the blocking of content and closure of social media accounts is to be completely decided by the ministries, without judicial review or the right to appeal.

The ministerial order represents "a serious threat to the Cambodian people's constitutional rights," the NGOs statement said. It added that the working group further reduces "the limited space left for public debate following months of attacks on media freedoms."

The creation of the working group comes ahead of Cambodia's planned general election next month. Rights groups have raised concerns about the fairness of the election process because of a series of actions by the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Among the actions was a government ban on the country's main opposition party. Cambodian officials accused the party of attempting to overthrow the government. Political observers and rights groups have said they believe the action was taken in an effort by Hun Sen's government to stay in power.

The government has also attempted to silence critical voices within the country's NGO community and has closed some media organizations.

Earlier this year, Cambodia's main media watchdog group said media freedoms suffered severe damage in 2017. A report by the Cambodian Center for Independent Media noted the closures of 32 radio stations that produced broadcasts often critical of the government. It said other media organizations were also forced to suspend operations because the government launched tax investigations.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

This story was reported by Radio Free Asia's Khmer Service. It was translated by Nareth Muong and written in English by Joshua Lipes. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for Learning English, with additional information from Reuters. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

dissemination n. the spreading of information or ideas

filter v. remove unwanted things from something

monitor - v. to watch, observe, listen to, or check (something) for a special purpose over a period of time

censorship n. the blocking or removal of material such as writings, film, videos which are not approved by the government