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Proposed Cambodian Cybercrime Law Challenges Free Speech Online

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A Cambodian cybercrime law drafted by legislators in 2012 threatens to curb free speech and stifle dissent in the country, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) says. The secret draft law was leaked by London-based human rights organization ARTICLE 19 in April.

Cambodia has done little to discourage expression online compared to neighbors Vietnam and Thailand, according to the EFF. However, the country’s government is largely considered to be authoritarian and abusive, and has been engulfed in a human rights crisis since mid-2013 according to Human Rights Watch, when the political opposition claims to have actually won an election which was stolen.

“The ruling party is certainly frustrated at the fact that they cannot win the battle online,” Ou Virak, a political analyst said. “They have no idea what to do. They tried different things. They tried throwing a lot of money, and that didn’t work. So they’re obviously frustrated. And this is why the Cybercrime Law is going to be one that the government is looking at as a potential tool.”

Article 28 of the draft law describes illegal online activities as being those “damaging to the moral and cultural values of the society,” or those which are “deemed to be non-factual” and “undermine the integrity of any governmental agencies.” The EFF says that the penalties outlined are more severe for online speech violations than offline ones.

According to the CIA, there were just under 14,000 “Internet hosts” in Cambodia in 2012, ranking the country 129th in the world. The number of Cambodian internet users has been growing rapidly, from less than 79,000 in 2009 to 3.8 million in 2013, according to The Cambodia Daily.

Monitoring tools may help hosts deliver sites in Cambodia as its online censorship ramps up, but the new law is aimed at individuals and publications, rather than hosts.

Protecting the expression of concerns over the fairness of elections and human rights is part of the motivation of Google’s Project Shield, but that service only protects against DDoS attacks, and does not provide the anonymity which would be required for Cambodians to blog about dissent without facing legal reproductions if the draft law is enacted.

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