As a hacker yet again defaced the personal website of Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday, a Justice Ministry spokesman announced that the US would help the Kingdom develop its controversial draft cybercrime bill, which observers have long feared will be used to crack down on government critics.
Following a meeting between US Ambassador William Heidt and Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana yesterday morning, Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said the US had volunteered to help “guarantee that the preparation of this law is not going to restrict freedom of expression”.
“In July a working group from the Ministry of Justice and relevant working groups from the telecom and interior ministries will visit Washington in order to study, learn and exchange experience with the US in drafting and implementing a cybercrime law,” Malin said, adding that the bill was “moving forward”.
Long in the works, the cybercrime bill was shelved in 2014 following a public backlash to clauses that criminalised content that “slanders or undermines” the government or public officials, or affects “political cohesiveness”.
A second draft obtained by the Post last December appeared to have dropped the controversial clauses, though fears of the legislation’s potential misuse have remained, given several recent cases of authorities targeting people over comments made on social media.
Yesterday, US embassy spokesman Jay Raman declined to discuss the cybercrime bill cooperation. Raman said in an email Heidt’s visit to the Justice Minister was a courtesy call that covered a broad range of issues including “cooperation in the fight against trafficking in persons, rule of law, and the current political situation”.
As more citizens go online, the internet has become an increasingly important political battleground in Cambodia.
In a bid to win over younger voters, Hun Sen has ramped up his online presence, though the premier has proved sensitive to online attacks.
In yet another such case, a hacker, identifying as part of the global “hacktivist” group Anonymous, yesterday defaced the premier’s website a second time, plastering it with photos of violence by Cambodian security forces against citizens. The hacker, who warned the premier in May that more attacks would follow if he did not “stop hurting people”, yesterday vowed his campaign would continue.
“This is the second blow or slap because Samdech continues to cause problems in the past few days,” read text posted on the website, which was shut down following the attack. “Stop hurting other people; if not, you will get a third blow.”
Following the initial hack, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications said it was waiting for data from the page’s administrators to trace the hacker’s origin. Yesterday, however, ministry spokesman Khov Makara referred questions to the Interior Ministry, whose representatives could not be reached.
Additional reporting by Shaun Turton