An updated version of the controversial cybercrime draft law appears to have jettisoned a widely criticised provision criminalising online content that “slanders or undermines” the government or public officials or affects “political cohesiveness”, though fears remain it could be reinserted.
The status of the proposed legislation, first announced in 2012, has remained uncertain since the government announced in December that it was shelving the bill, which critics have long feared could be used to suppress free speech and target political opponents.
In what one transparency campaigner called “a step forward”, a second draft dated July 2015, excludes the notorious Article 28 of the previous draft, which stipulated offences related to online content.
That provision included jail terms of up to three years for content considered to “hinder the sovereignty and integrity” of Cambodia, “incite or instigate the general population that could cause one or many to generate anarchism”, “generate insecurity, instability and [affect] political cohesiveness” or deemed “to be non-factual which slanders or [undermines] the integrity of any government agencies [or] ministries”.
However, the latest draft, obtained by Post Weekend, represents the law only as it was when passed from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunication to the Interior Ministry earlier this year, according to the source who supplied the document.
This, they said, left cause for concern. “We were surprised Article 28 was taken out, but it’s been given to the Interior Ministry, so if it’s going to be put back in, that’s likely where it will happen.”
Yesterday, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said that, while he didn’t know the specific status of the draft, the law did not seek to undermine freedom of expression. “We don’t refer to the freedom of expression or using Facebook, but focus on economic crimes,” he said, citing internet and banking fraud.
Ministry of Posts and Communication spokesman Chay Navuth declined to comment.
Though Article 28 is absent, the updated version retains clauses allowing authorities to order internet service providers to preserve data for use in investigations for up to four months.
In a report released in May, rights group Licadho accused the government of expanding its “arsenal of legal tools … that seem almost tailor-made to target the expression of dissenting opinions online”. Since then, the Ministry of Interior has established an “anti-cyber crime” unit, while parliamentarians on Monday passed a telecommunications law also criticised as a threat to free expression and privacy.
Preap Kok, executive director of Transparency International, said the exclusion of the concerning article, if permanent, was a step forward, but called for the government to publicly release both the cybercrime and telecommunication laws and arrange meaningful consultation with stakeholders.
Additional reporting by Chhay Channyda.