Activists and advocates say they fear the online sphere that has become a popular means of expression may not last long, with potential legislation to regulate cyberspace on the horizon.
The government has not yet put pressure on Internet usage, where many Cambodian youth express themselves via social media, but a so-called “cyber-crime law” is in the works, Chak Sopheap, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, told VOA Khmer.
“What we welcome is the fact that the government has not put much pressure on Internet usage, which is a trend that has encouraged people, especially the youth, to express their opinions and share information,” she said. “This made a significant difference to the results of the last election. What we are concerned now is related to the government drafting a law on cyber-crime.”
While civil society groups have not been allowed to officially see the law, a leaked copy shows heavy penalties for vague crimes that could result in a curtailing of online freedoms. Cambodia has nearly 3 million Internet users, most of whom go online via their mobile phones.
Chheang Von, a lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said the law would target “bad Internet users,” such as those who produce pornography. But he said it would not hurt online freedom. “Making a law to regulate Internet usage does not mean pushing the growth of this system backward or preventing people from going online,” he said.
Meanwhile, concerns abound. Young online users gathered in September to express their worries over the leaked copy of the law, which includes penalties of up to three years “for harm of national integrity or sovereignty,” a vague charge that could encompass many things.
Advocates want to see the government roll back such laws, said Ream Sophea, a leader of the Cambodian Youth Network. “If they don’t agree, we will lead an advocacy campaign with the participation of the youth to demand they not create this law.”