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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rights groups wary of ban on internet cafés

Rights groups wary of ban on internet cafés

net cafe hong menea

Children play video games at an internet café in Phnom Penh, Thursday, Dec 13, 2012. Photograph: Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post

Rights workers cautioned yesterday that a sweeping ban on internet cafés near schools was little more than a thinly veiled act of censorship.

Issued last month by the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, the circular says all internet cafés within 500 metres of a school must be closed, and bans gaming.   

“This heavy-handed effort to shut down affordable and accessible venues for using the internet in Cambodia is not only legally unfounded, it is a transparent attempt to block part of the population’s access to independent sources of information through news sites and social media,” Naly Pilorge, director of rights group Licadho, said in a statement, which goes on to liken the circular to cyber-crime legislation in China and Vietnam.

Both countries have been heavily criticised for their extreme internet restrictions, which have seen numerous free-speech advocates arrested under the draconian laws.

No such laws exist in Cambodia, though a proposed cyber law – on which precious little information has been released – has drawn concern from rights groups.

Director of the ministry’s Inspection Department, Chem Sangva, dismissed the criticism yesterday, and insisted there was no ulterior motive behind the circular.

“The students who should be studying have grown completely absorbed in these games,” he said.

“We are thinking only of improving the Khmer’s future.”

Asked whether the government intended to censor information, Sangva called such accusations “fiction”.

To contact the reporter on this story: Meas Sokchea at sokchea.meas@phnompenhpost.com

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