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US ambassador defends net freedoms

US Ambassador William Todd has called for internet freedom in Cambodia to be guaranteed, just days after a government spokesman said social media users who publicly attack officials should be prosecuted.

In an apparent response to that statement, Todd pointed out in his weekly column that US President Barack Obama had opened a Twitter account within the past week and chosen not to delete it or restrict access, despite some users aiming heavy criticism at him.

Explaining why reacting to such criticism was unwise, Todd quoted US Secretary of State John Kerry from a speech last week on cybersecurity: “Repression does not eliminate the speech we hate. It just forces it into other avenues – avenues that often can become more dangerous than the speech itself that people are fighting.”

Civil society representatives have warned that net freedom is imperilled by a proposed law governing the internet.

Meanwhile, last week, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan called for legal action against anyone insulting the dignity of officials, a call he said was driven by unreasonable attacks made against him and other officials online.

Siphan yesterday defended his statements, suggesting that Todd would not be so amenable to the abuse if he or his family was on the receiving end.

“Does William Todd want that for his wife, his daughter, himself?” he asked.

According to Siphan, the government favours free expression, as long as it does not spread lies or infringe on the dignity of others.

“That is not just for members of the CPP or the government, but everyone,” he said.

Todd’s column was published on Sunday, just a week after he was called “insolent” by the government after commenting on the controversial draft NGO law. Todd responded in this Sunday’s column, saying, “I look forward to continued discussion in the days and weeks to come.”

Meanwhile, in a statement yesterday, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications sought to dampen criticism of the draft cybercrime law, saying it was too early for such critiques.

“Debating and judging the draft, which is in the process of information gathering, is like tasting food without ingredients,” the statement said.



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