Cybercrime Law May Silence Critics, NGOs Say

Cambodia’s cybercrime law, a draft of which was made available online Wednesday, could be used to arbitrarily punish people who share controversial opinions online or air complaints about the CPP government, rights groups said Wednesday.

According to the law, people who publish content online that slanders or undermines the government’s integrity would face jail time and fines.

The law would also establish a high level, 14-person body known as the National Anti-Cybercrime Committee, chaired by Prime Minister Hun Sen and Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, which would have control over the implementation of the law.

Article 28 outlines multiple offenses regarding the publication of content online. Citizens may be subject to punishment for publishing information that is “deemed to be non-factual, which slanders or undermine[s] the integrity of any governmental agencies, ministries, not limited to departments, federal or local levels.”

Other offenses include sharing content that damages the integrity of Cambodia, incites or instigates the general population, or generates insecurity and instability.

“This article is very strict on freedom of expression, access to information and dissemination of information,” said Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho.

The law lists other offenses, such as data espionage, computer-related fraud and child pornography. But it is Article 28 that has rights groups worried.

“Article 28 can be used to target human rights activists or the opposition,” said Chak Sopheap, executive director for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

“For example, many online users are very critical and no longer just listen to a party. They have their own thoughts.”

The article, however, makes no specific reference to social networks, which in the past year have become popular among local activists as well as leaders and supporters of the opposition CNRP.

Each offense in the article is punishable by one to three years in prison and by fines ranging from 2,000,000 riel, or about $500, to 6,000,000 riel, or about $1,500.

But determing violations would be up to the proposed Anti-Cybercrime Committee.

“Officials of the National Anti-Cybercrime Committee, who are appointed as judicial police, take charge of investigating cybercrime offenses,” the draft law states.

The law goes on to say that the Committee “shall submit all facts to the prosecutor for further action in conformity with the provisions of the code of criminal procedures.”

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan declined to comment because the law is not yet public.

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