Filmmaker Sees Online Censorship as Danger to Cambodian Democracy

University students from the Royal University of Phnom Penh browsing the Internet at a coffee shop along Phnom Penh's Russian Federation Boulevard, June 13, 2014. (Photo: Suy Heimkhemra/VOA Khmer)

Freedom of expression online plays an important role in Cambodia’s developing democracy says Ellen Grant, who recently produced a documentary called "Cyber-Democracy: Cambodia, Kafka's Kingdom."

[Editor’s note: Freedom of expression online plays an important role in Cambodia’s developing democracy. Therefore, any form of censorship of online communication among the Cambodian people represents a danger to democracy in the country, says Ellen Grant, who recently produced a documentary on cyberspace and its role in Cambodia. The film, “Cyber-Democracy: Cambodia, Kafka’s Kingdom,” recently showed in Long Beach, California, and in Los Angeles. Grant spoke with VOA Khmer about the film and how it is being received.]

VOA Khmer: How did people react to the documentary?

I was very, very moved. Some people came up to me after the showing in tears. They were so happy that someone had factually demonstrated what’s going on in Cambodia. Also, I think they were very moved by bravery of so many people who are standing up to authority so that their voices can be heard.

What are their concerns over the current social and political developments in Cambodia?

For people I have spoken with, they are concerned that things are coming to a head, and they are also concerned about the next election. Hun Sen has seemed to dig in, and the opportunity for the opposition to communicate with potential voters is being restricted by either censoring the voices that are expressed and posted online and in public.

Ellen Grant is an American filmmaker based in Washington State, who recently produced a documentary about Cyber-democracy in Cambodia. (Courtesy Image)

Recently, a video of two opposition lawmakers being beaten by an angry mob went viral on social media. How do you think this speaks to cyber-democracy in Cambodia?

Cyber-democracy in Cambodia is a critical step toward making sure that there is justice and an even application of the law. Without the ability of Cambodians to communicate with each other and to demonstrate to the world what’s going on inside Cambodia, I am fearful that democracy will not succeed in that country.

With the leak of a drafted cyber-crime law, what do you think would be the reaction to your documentary if it is shown in Cambodia?

I am not sure if this documentary will be screened publicly in Cambodia. I’ve been cautioned that it would not be a good idea for me to travel to Cambodia, nor would it be a good idea for the co-producer, Dr. Gaffar [Peang-Meth] to travel to Cambodia at this time. I am hopeful that people will hear about the documentary, which is currently online, on YouTube, on video, and can be viewed without any kind of limitation. So I hope that people take advantage of looking online to find the documentary in Khmer.

How does your team feel about the achievement of the documentary?

I am very, very thankful for Dr. Gaffar’s organization, and also very thankful for the folks who worked on the translation, on the narration of it, and on the recording. It was a very, very important step to make this documentary available to Khmer speaking people.

Do you and your team also plan to have the documentary screened somewhere else in the US?

For right now, I have just come back from Los Angeles and Long Beach. But I think there is a possibility that it will be screened [further]. I am certainly open to, either traveling with the film or allowing people just to get people together to look at it. My suggestion to a number of people I spoke to in Los Angeles was to show the video to a small group of people, so there can be a discussion afterward, and some sort of action plan to help promote positive change in Cambodia, which would be the best way to go.