The government today denied reports that it has asked internet service providers to block an opposition-aligned website, which continued to be unavailable to users through at least four ISPs.
“We didn’t make any order to block KI-Media,” So Khun, the minister of posts and telecommunications, said today. “I deny that the government allowed the order to block any website.”
Mao Chakrya, the ministry’s director general, also said there had been no such directive, backing up comments by Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith on Monday saying the government would not block “any website”.
However, So Khun presided over a meeting on February 10 with mobile operators, during which he apparently asked for cooperation in blocking traffic to unspecified websites, according to official minutes from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.
“In the meeting, His Excellency said that the Royal Government did not have a principle of blocking some websites, but His Excellency made a request to all operators to cooperate in curbing some websites that affect Khmer morality and tradition and the government through using the internet,” say the minutes, a copy of which was obtained today by The Post.
“He suggested that all operators help to cooperate and report on time so that the Ministry is able to offer its report to the government.”
Internet users have reported to The Post that they were unable to access the website KI-Media through four ISPs: Online, WiCam, Metfone, and Ezecom.
However, MekongNet, and Chuan Wei have not blocked access to the site, which was also available by cell phone through provider Mobitel today.
Two other sites, Khmerization and Sacrava, which carry content that overlaps with KI-Media, could not be accessed through Ezecom.
Though there were just 29,589 internet subscribers in 2009, that number jumped to 173,675 in 2010, coinciding with the introduction of 3G towers and mobile internet access, according to data obtained last month from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.
There are also an estimated 239,560 Facebook users in the Kingdom.
Paul Blanche-Horgan, CEO of Ezecom, has said the issue was merely a “technical problem”, while a Metfone representative did not respond to requests for comment.
Alan Sinfield, CEO of qb, said he didn’t know anything about a government request to restrict internet access.
On Monday, people trying to access KI-Media through ISP WiCam received a message stating that the site had been “blocked as ordered by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications of Cambodia”.
A WiCam employee told The Post that the ministry had sent an email to the company several weeks ago ordering them to block access to the site because it “impacts the government”.
The WiCam error message was changed today, and said only that the “requested URL could not be retrieved”.
KI-Media is maintained by several domestic and overseas bloggers who aggregate Cambodia-related news articles with a mix of political commentary, satirical cartoons, Khmer poetry and inspirational quotations.
Some of the government criticism is vitriolic.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior officials are listed as “traitors”, while opposition leader Sam Rainsy and other activists are labelled “heroes”.
The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights slammed the reported blocked access, saying “censorship” would only instill discontent.
“By extending its censorship to the internet, the government is likely to create further discontent amongst the people,” Ou Virak, president of CCHR, said in a statement today.
“It is only by joining the online dialogue and by responding to criticisms with reasoned argument that the government can hope to avoid the criticisms it seems so intent on suppressing.”
Meanwhile, in what the United States has billed a major address pushing internet freedom after uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on governments worldwide to support an open internet, according to excerpts released ahead of the speech.
“History has shown us that repression often sows the seeds for revolution down the road,” she said.
“Those who clamp down on Internet freedom may be able to hold back the full impact of their people’s yearnings for a while, but not forever.” ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SAM RITH AND REUTERS