Cambodia's freedom of expression is in “dire” shape despite advances in the relatively uncensored new media arena, according to a report released yesterday by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
In a follow-up to its 2010 report “Cambodia Gagged: Democracy at Risk?” the centre conducted a survey on freedom of expression between 2012 and 2013.
“Although Cambodian people have increasingly begun to exercise their right to free speech, especially in relation to politics surrounding the 2013 national election, 2012 and early 2013 have seen the situation of free expression deteriorate,” the report states.
Freedom of expression is guaranteed under both international laws ratified by Cambodia and by Cambodian law. However, the report asserts that authorities use other means, especially anti-defamation laws, to silence dissent and crack down on government criticism.
“Journalists have been intimidated, threatened and attacked to promote a culture of self-censorship … demonstrations have been suppressed through disproportionate use of force; activists have routinely suffered or been threatened with assault, arrest, detention without trial and fabricated criminal charges in order to restrict their activities; [and] political opponents have been undermined and in some cases have had their parliamentary immunity revoked,” the report states, while noting Cambodia’s recent drop in the World Free Press Index to 143rd out of 179 countries.
Sorn Ramna, project coordinator for freedom of expression at the centre, said that while traditional forms of media remain largely under the control of the government, new media, especially Facebook, is becoming a popular way for young people to share restricted information.
He cautioned, however, that the government is interested in regulating digital information through a yet-to-be-drafted Cyber Crimes Law, and that only about 17 per cent of Cambodians have access to the internet.
However, said social researcher Kem Ley, the recent trend of people joining political protests reflects “a new culture where people can fight for the freedom of expression”.