A person looks at the Facebook page of Cambodia’s prime minister, Hun Sen, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. KT/Pann Rachana
The Royal Embassy of Cambodia to the United States of America on Saturday refuted a Washington Post editorial that accused the Cambodian government of suffocating free speech and stifling political opposition with its planned National Internet Gateway.
The editorial, published on Friday, said Cambodia’s plan for the internet is “a threat not only to one nation but also to the entire globe” and said it could be used to filter and suppress information.
In its response published Friday, the Cambodian embassy in the US reiterated that the Sub-Decree on the National Internet Gateway was drafted to “increase the effectiveness of national revenue collection on the basis of fair and honest competition, and transparency between the state and operators, as well as to prevent illegal cross-border network connections, illegal online gambling, cyber threats, pornography [and] online frauds”.
It said the sub-decree did not give permission to collect user data or restrict freedom of expression.
In response to the allegation that Cambodia is “a completely authoritarian state with no opposition at all,” the embassy said it was untrue and pointed to the seven political parties which participated in municipal, provincial, city, district and commune council elections in 2019.
The Washington Post editorial also claimed that “Kem Sokha is under indefinite house arrest” and the embassy clarified that Sokha is allowed to travel anywhere within Cambodia, but he may not leave the country or participate in political activities.
The Post also stated: “Independent domestic media has been shuttered, foreign media has been ordered out, and the remaining television and radio broadcasts are under state control.”
The embassy responded to this claim by listing different media outlets which are allowed to operate in the country, including Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA).
The Post editorial made similar claims as a joint letter signed by 63 civil society organisations (CSOs) on February 19 which called for the government to repeal the Sub-Decree on the National Internet Gateway, citing concerns that it could restrict internet users’ freedom and privacy.
Nop Vy, executive director of Cambodian Journalists Alliance (Camboja) – a journalist association and one of the 63 CSOs to sign the agreement – said his organisation’s biggest concern was the broad descriptions used in the wording of the sub-decree, especially in Articles 6 and 12.
Vy said he feared this would leave the door open for the government to potentially impose restrictions on free speech.
However, government spokesman Phay Siphan said freedom of expression would not be altered by the sub-decree and laws surrounding this right are explicitly explained in the Criminal Code.
Likewise, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications published a press release defending the sub-decree and said the ministry “intends to draft the Personal Data Protection Law following the Cybersecurity Law which shall be adopted imminently”.