Hundreds of Cambodian Internet users have made their feelings known on their government’s controversial plans to regulate the country’s Internet, after a local civil society group invited public comment online.
Millions of Cambodians are now connected to the Internet thanks to cheap high-speed connections and smartphones. Many use social media sites to discuss and satirize politics, expressing their own ideas on issues from corruption to education and from deforestation to the country’s contentious border with Vietnam.
An unofficial draft of the government’s so-called Cybercrime Law was made public last year, drawing claims the long-standing administration of Prime Minister Hun Sen was seeking to curtail freedom of expression on the Internet. The government claims the law is now “dormant,” but the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM) has set up a new site to gather public comment on the issue of Internet freedom.
The group has drawn up a Statement of Internet Rights in Cambodia—listing the basic rights and freedoms that Cambodians should expect to have online—a draft of which it has posted at www.netlawkh.org.
The “wiki-like” crowdsourcing site, which was launched in February by CCIM with the support of Washington D.C.-based group Freedom House, allows anyone to comment and propose amendments to the statement. According to CCIM, more than 1,000 Internet users have already commented on the site.
“We need full freedom of expression without interference from any institution,” read one comment posted on the website made available to VOA Khmer.
The commenters, who are anonymized for their protection, were overwhelmingly against the idea that the government should introduce a new law to increase regulation over the Internet.
“We have existing provisions enough to cover online fraud. Why bother to create more of a legal framework? Please implement the existing law and make sure everyone respects it,” read another comment.
Another user contrasted Cambodia’s liberal approach to the Internet up to the present day with that in other countries, especially those with communist rulers where the Internet is “restricted.” Neighboring Vietnam and the Cambodian government’s biggest patron, China, both apply strict limits on what their people can view online.
“In democratic countries, such as Cambodia, the use of the Internet has seen great acceleration, especially in terms of negative criticism of the government…” the user wrote. “The Internet is really important for developing countries like Cambodia. But if freedom is restricted [the government] will become authoritarian.”
Pa Ngoun Teang, executive director at CCIM, said that the high caliber of the comments on the site showed that Cambodian people were engaged with the issue of Internet freedom.
“It means that people understand the importance of the Internet and its benefits, and that is very important,” he said. “If the government goes against the people’s will [with this law] it will affect development and even business in Cambodia.”
The draft law has not been submitted to Parliament and is now at the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications. Last month, ministry spokesman Meas Po said that officials were still working on the law to make sure it serves the interests of the people. Phay Siphan, a government spokesman at the Council of Ministers, said this month that the draft law is currently in a “dormant state.”
Sorthy So, communications and advocacy officer for CCIM, said the organization had organized a workshop on the issue this month, inviting the relevant government bodies, as well as Internet service providers.
“We invited the government and the companies to discuss and comment on the input we have collected,” he said. “Next we’ll take these principals to shape the draft in order to protect the rights of Cambodian people and make sure it’s for their benefit.”