PHNOM PENH —
Cambodian pro-democracy and rights groups have written a statement of principles to guide Internet freedom in the country, following the arrests of activists for Facebook posts.
Social media use has greatly expanded in the country in recent years, making sites like Facebook an important place for people to engage in political dialogue previously unheard of.
But the arrests of activists, including a senator from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, and the looming prospect of a law to govern cyberspace, has many people worried.
On Tuesday, 21 NGOs issued their nine principles, which include protections for the human rights on the Internet, freedom of speech and freedom of information. No. 5, for example, says “everyone has the right to use the Internet to receive and share information, including text, photographs, video, databases, news and opinion. The State must ensure public information is provided online.”
Ngin Lyda, communications coordinator for the NGO Forum, which took part in the campaign, said civil society is concerned about the recent arrests and other acts of suppression on Internet Freedom.
“We are concerned because it is a threat; social media users will be scared, which will affect the freedom of speech,” Ngin Lyda said, adding that social media remains a key place for Cambodians to express themselves.
Meanwhile, at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday, Kong Raya, 27, appeared on charges related to a post online, allegedly calling for a revolution. His lawyer told the court such speech does not constitute “incitement,” as charged. And last week, the Ministry of Interior announced the establishment of a new department, to oversee the Internet and social media.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan acknowledged a crackdown on Internet users in recent months, but he defended it as necessary to maintain social order and public safety. “Yes, there is a restriction, but for people who are conducting or about to conduct a revolution; or people who are intentionally inciting, or disrupting the happiness and social order, which is prohibited by law,” he said. “For the ordinary people, who criticize, they are simply welcome.”