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Kingdom sees internet freedom shrink in 2017

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Moeung Lihor, 20, questioned after her arrest for allegedly insulting Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Queen Mother in a Facebook post. Photo supplied

Kingdom sees internet freedom shrink in 2017

Despite gains in internet accessibility in Cambodia, the Kingdom is becoming increasingly restrictive in terms of freedom of expression online, according to a new report.

The Freedom on the Net report, published by Freedom House last week, finds that in Cambodia, “Internet freedom deteriorated in 2017, with prison sentences and new arrests for online speech and technical attacks on activists and journalists.” “Criminal charges in relation to Facebook posts, relatively uncommon just two years ago, appear to be increasing in advance of 2018 elections,” the authors write.

The report lists various cases targeted against opposition and civil society members, and highlights that no case involved government members.

Ou Virak, founder of political think tank Future Forum, said that although a large number of cases were legitimate, some were specifically targeted at stifling dissent by encouraging self-censorship, though “the impact hasn’t been huge yet”.

But one local IT-specialist, who requested anonymity for fear of repercussions, said he had begun self-censoring his social media posts for fear of arrest. Upset by the dissolution of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party last week, he published a critical post on his Facebook account only to take it down shortly thereafter.

“I got information from a friend that if we post something against the government we will be arrested and put into jail. So I deleted it, because I don’t want to go to jail just because I am upset about this situation,” he said.

He said his friend was warned by a friend in the government about an increase in arrests.

Naly Pilorge, of rights group Licadho, said there had been a significant increase in criminal cases against Facebook users, particularly since last year. “There has been a number of [Facebook] users . . . who have been arrested, charged and sent to prisons for posting opinions without independent investigations or any indications a crime has been committed,” she said.

Ed Legaspi, executive director at the Bangkok-based Southeast Asia Press Alliance, said this was a general trend in Asia.

“The problem in [Cambodia] is that there are no clear rules on online speech, so authorities have plenty of elbow room to act against politically critical speech,” he said via email. “We expect the tightening of political space in Cambodia to result in further intolerance of political speech.”

The Ministry of Information could not be reached.

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