The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications said Tuesday that rules punishing people for insulting government officials online would be included in a pending cybercrime law, but insisted that the state had no intention to restrict social media use.
Following a letter last week from Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan calling for criminal charges to be brought against abusive Internet users, Telecommunications Ministry spokesman Meas Pou said Tuesday that the new law would address those concerns.
“Some people with bad intentions use online systems to attack and criticize the government. Therefore, we will look into some laws regarding insulting, illegally attacking and destroying the honor of the government,” Mr. Pou said.
Rights groups have criticized a draft of the cybercrime law, leaked in April last year, which they say would impose restrictions that are inconsistent with the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution.
In December, Mr. Siphan himself said the draft, which was almost entirely lifted from the 2001 European treaty on cybercrime, had been scrapped.
On Tuesday, however, Mr. Pou said the government was still working on the law and that “all stakeholders and relevant people” would be invited to a public consultation to suggest improvements, but gave no timeframe.
“Regarding some NGOs that have said that the government has restricted the use of social media and the Internet, that is not true,” he said. “The government works very hard to widen the Internet.”
Following the letter from Mr. Siphan last week, the ministry on Monday released a statement saying that the next draft of the law would address the dissemination of content that “impacts the good tradition of society,” including racism, religious persecution, slander, defamation and insults.
It said punishment for those crimes would be consistent with the existing laws.
The statement urged detractors to withhold their criticism until after the draft is complete.
“The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications sees that it is too early to debate and judge the law that is still being compiled,” it said. “It is like tasting a soup before adding the ingredients.”
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said the draft cybercrime law contained articles that would allow the punishment of citizens for no clear reason.
“All the traditional media is controlled by the ruling party and people have fewer rights to express their views, and their last choice is to express themselves through Facebook and social media,” he said.
“In the end, they will implement [the new law] without consultation…and we are concerned because it contains many articles that restrict freedom of expression.”