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NGO lashes out at govt censorship

Web blocking, religious controls in the firing line

RIGHTS activists have called on the government to respect freedom of expression, citing a "concerning" drift towards censorship on political and religious grounds.

In a statement released Monday, the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) criticised AngkorNet, a local internet service provider, for blocking the website of UK-based corruption watchdog Global Witness, apparently in response to its release of a highly critical report on the country's oil and mining sectors last week.

The group also expressed concerns about Prime Minister Hun Sen's announcement Sunday that all works of art featuring Buddhism would be vetted by religious authorities, following a monks' outcry over rock opera When Elephants Weep.

"[We] urge the Royal Government of Cambodia to tolerate creativity and freedom of expression," the statement said.

CCHR President Ou Virak said both cases were examples of the government's "natural tendency" towards censorship, citing its ban of a Global Witness report on illegal logging in 2007.

Although officials have denied knowledge of the blocking of the Global Witness site, he said the political climate encouraged individuals to take pre-emptive action to please senior officials.

He also said Hun Sen's call for the review of art featuring Buddhism would "create a lot of bureaucratic red tape" and impose "restrictions" on creative activity.

"What it creates is a ripple effect, which makes it known ... that this is the normal reaction from the government and that it is best to play it safe," he said. "That's the message."

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