February 16, 2011. By LICADHO.
The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) condemns the ongoing censorship of the Internet in Cambodia, which has targeted news and opinion sites critical of the government.
“Until now, Cambodia’s Internet environment had been noticeably freer than in neighboring countries,” said LICADHO President Pung Chhiv Kek. “More importantly, the Internet was the only audio or visual media not fully controlled by the government. The censoring of controversial Web sites marks a significant milestone in the march toward a more oppressive media environment.”
The ongoing disruption of certain Web sites began for some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) on January 19, 2011, with the blockage of the controversial Web site KI-Media (and initiall all blogs hosted by the domain Blogspot). The problem affected ISPs Ezecom, Metfone, WiCAM and possibly others.
The day of the outage, customer service representatives at Ezecom, one of Cambodia’
s largest ISPs, told several of its clients that the sites had been blocked on the request of the Ministry of Interior. Ezecom management later denied in writing that it received a directive from the government. Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith also denied involvement. Over the following days, service was restored for all providers except Metfone.
In early February a new wave of outages hit, affecting KI-Media and two other sites, Khmerization, a citizen-journalist blog often critical of the government, and the blog of Khmer political cartoonist Sacrava. The affected ISPs included Online, WiCam, Metfone and Ezecom.
On February 14, 2011, the Phnom Penh Post reported that WiCam customers who attempted attempting to access KI-Media instead saw a message stating that the site had been “blocked as ordered by the Ministry of Post an Telecommunications of Cambodia.” An unnamed WiCam employee told the newspaper that the ministry ordered KI-Media blocked because it “impacts the government.”
Ezecom CEO Paul Blanche-Horgan, meanwhile, was quoted in the same publication denying that the government had ordered his company to block any Web sites. He went on to say that the only “two or three people” had complained about the outage and implied that the problem was “on their end.”
LICADHO and media organizations have confirmed that the problem extends far beyond “two or three people.”
The outage of certain sites continues to this day, and appears to affect the entire customer base of at least four ISPs.
LICADHO sent repeated requests to Ezecom management beginning February 10, 2011, when staff became unable to access certain sites at our office. Ezecom management replied by stating that they were “currently working on … technical issues and will respond as soon as possible.”
LICADHO then requested an estimate for when the problem would be fixed. As of yesterday, LICADHO received no further explanation, and the problem has not yet been resolved.
On February 15, 2011, the Phnom Penh Post reported that So Khun, minister of posts and telecommunications, denied that the government had “ordered”
ISPs to block opposition-aligned Web sites. A simple review of Cambodian news over the past two months indicates that this claim rings hollow.
On December 16, 2010, Chairman of Cambodia-Vietnam Joint Border Commission Var Kim Hong told Radio Free Asia that the government would shut down KI-Media by December 31, 2010. The statement came days after the site published articles critical of him and other Cambodian leaders. Just days later, World Food Program staff member Seng Kunnaka was arrested and convicted of incitement after printing out and distributing material from KI-Media.
Moreover, the Phnom Penh Post reported on February 15 that So Khun presided over a meeting on February 10 where he asked mobile phone operators to “cooperate” in blocking certain Web sites “that affect Khmer morality and tradition and the government.”
The request was published in the official minutes of the meeting.
Although the situation is far from transparent, a clearer picture is emerging. The government clearly has it out for a handful of controversial Web sites, and official government records show that a high-ranking minister asked for “cooperation”
from the business community in censoring the Internet.
It is difficult to say just how firm the government’s “request” was, but some businesses have complied with it. Some have not. Still others have apparently complied and feigned ignorance, blaming end-users and “technical problems.”
“It’s time for ISPs to take responsibility in being honest towards its clients,” said Naly Pilorge, Director of LICADHO. “They can play with words all they want, but at the end of the day, this still amounts to censorship. Their charade is not fooling anyone.”
Did the government order providers to block certain sites? If so, the government should immediately rescind the order and make it clear to ISPs that it supports a free and open Internet. Censorship of Web sites critical of the government has no place in a democratic society. Censorship of the Internet places Cambodia in the company of countries such as Burma, Vietnam and China.
Did the government simply make a “request” that ISP providers block certain sites? If so, ISPs owe their customers an honest explanation as to why they have chosen to comply. Hiding behind excuses simply makes them complicit in the censorship campaign. Concerned customers should call their ISPs and demand a legitimate explanation for the ongoing outage of political opposition Web sites. Better yet, all ISPs should decline the government’
s request and restore full Internet access immediately.
“Customers deserve to know whether they are giving their money to a company that is helping to enable a government censorship campaign,”
For more information, please contact:
LICADHO Director Naly Pilorge (English, French), 012 803 650
LICADHO President Pung Chhiv Kek (English, French, Khmer), 012 802 506