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Cyber Security Draft Law Has Tech Community Worried

Cambodian men are using internet at a coffee shop in Phnom Penh, file photo.
Cambodian men are using internet at a coffee shop in Phnom Penh, file photo.
Rights workers and members of Cambodia’s online community say they are concerned with the leaked draft of a cyber security bill that could have major implications for free speech on the Internet.

Critics say the law as it is currently drafted could threaten basic freedoms online—imposing steep penalties and fines for vague crimes.

A draft of the law was leaked by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights earlier this week. Government spokesman Phay Siphan said Wednesday the law “has not been finalized yet.”

But the latest version has a number of worrisome provisions, critics say.

It prohibits online publication of information that is considered inciting, or discriminatory of race, sex and age, or that is defamatory. It also bans “misinformation” that results in “public disorder” or “instability.”

Violations of the provisions could lead to up to three years in prison and fines up to 6 million riel, or $1,500.

Chak Sopheap, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, told VOA Khmer the law could hurt freedom of expression online.

“And if the law is adopted with the current format, it is very dangerous for human rights activists and the public to raise opinions critical of the government,” he said.

Advocates for free speech say similar provisions in other laws have allowed authorities to silence government dissent and criticism, including the jailing of journalists and activists. This has proven especially true for provisions on defamation and misinformation in other laws.

Online, Internet users complained of the draft this week, saying it could censor their comments and information sharing, especially on Facebook, which has become widely popular in recent years. Self-censorship on issues ranging from government criticism to citizen journalism could be affected.

The Internet has become a key source of information on many subjects, including corruption, deforestation and illegal immigration for Cambodians. Such topics are not covered by Cambodia’s traditional media, widely seen as biased toward the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

“The Internet is a very important medium of expression in the country,” said Lonh Samdy, who is active in online discussions. “If the law intends to restrict freedom of expression, it’s not good for the consolidation of democracy in the Cambodia.”

Cambodia has an estimated 4 million Internet users.

The law was drafted by the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, but officials there could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Phay Siphan said he could not expound on the draft. “We can discuss it when it becomes official,” he said.