The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications has told all internet service providers (ISPs) in the country to block the website of The Cambodia Daily newspaper and its associated social media accounts, including Facebook and Twitter pages, according to documents obtained by VOA Khmer.
The Daily, which had produced independent journalism on Cambodia since 1993, was forced to close on September 4 last year amid a standoff with the General Department of Taxation, which argued that the newspaper owed $6.3 million in taxes.
The government insisted that it was merely implementing the law and that the taxes being sought were unrelated to the Daily’s reporting. However, since September, there have been complaints from Cambodia-based internet users that the Daily’s website was unavailable on certain ISPs, making it more difficult to access the newspaper’s extensive story archive.
In a letter dated September 28, 2017, seen by VOA this weekend, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications asked all of Cambodia’s ISPs to cooperate in blocking the Daily’s website.
“All the internet service providers in Cambodia have to set up software programs and internet managing tools to block the website www.cambodiadaily.com, which uses the IP addresses 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124, and its Facebook, www.facebook.com/withoutfearorfavor/nig, and www.twitter.com/cambodiadaily, to ensure that the websites and IP addresses will not work in Cambodia,” the document reads.
Although the letter was framed as a “request” rather than an outright order, it told the ISPs that blocking the Daily was their “very high responsibility.”
“All the companies have do their best to do this technical work,” the letter adds.
This request followed a letter from the General Department of Taxation to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications dated September 12, 2017, asking the ministry to cooperate in blocking the Daily’s website and social media sites, saying that the newspaper’s corporate owner, Bernard Krisher Jimusho Co. Ltd, was delinquent in paying taxes.
The Taxation Department added that the aim of blocking the sites was to ensure that “the newspaper will not be able to run online publications.”
Im Vutha, a member of Telecommunication Regulator of Cambodia, a semi-autonomous body that oversees all the country’s ISPs, said over the weekend that his ministry had no control over websites ending in “.com,” and that he did not know anything about the attempt to block the Daily.
However, on Monday he told VOA that the letter was authentic, and added that any ISP that failed to block the Daily was violating the law.
“If you don’t follow, we will find out and take legal action,” he said. “If you do business in Cambodia, you have to follow Cambodian laws.” He declined to elaborate on which law would be broken by failing to block the website.
Khov Makara, a spokesman for the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, said he was not aware of the order to block the Daily.
“I don’t know about this. I need to ask the experts,” he said.
In a series of Twitter messages on Friday, one local ISP, SINET, confirmed that it had been ordered by the government to block the Daily.
“We can confirm that we’ve been ‘ordered’ to block access to @cambodiadaily since many months ago. As far as we know the ‘order’ was for every network” one post said. In another message, the ISP said that the block had been implemented “long ago,” and that they had received few customer complaints
SINET later deleted the Twitter posts on the topic and made its Twitter account private. However, a customer service representative who answered SINET’s phone on Saturday confirmed that the ISP was blocking the Cambodia Daily’s website on orders from the government.
Other ISPs operating in Cambodia could not immediately be reached for comment.
Deborah Krisher-Steele, the publisher of The Cambodia Daily at the time of its closure, said in an email that she had received no communication from the Cambodia government since August, including any notice that the Daily’s website may be blocked.