Ministry Seeking to Curb Sexual Images Online

Officials are looking for ways to prevent and potentially criminalize the posting of risque images of Cambodian women on social media, especially those that are sexually suggestive, a ministerial spokesman said on Monday.

“I am talking about the sexual images and pornography circulated on social media,” said Women’s Affairs Ministry undersecretary of state Phon Puthborey in an email. “The act is against the tradition and culture of Cambodian society and it can be against the Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, adopted in 2008.”

The ministry will work with other government agencies to determine whether such acts—uploading women’s images “to defame their reputation or for other illegal acts” for example—can be criminalized and what legal frameworks should be put in place, Mr. Puthborey said.

“We are trying to find possible approaches to preventing or stopping the uploading and circulating of negative images of women on social media,” Mr. Puthborey said. “However, it’s too early to tell what effective measures should be taken.”

The move follows rising government discomfort over both the sexualization of Cambodian women and free-wheeling content being posted online, especially on Facebook, which is by far the most widely used social media platform in Cambodia.

The Culture Ministry waded into a debate over what is considered appropriate dress and behavior earlier this year when it summoned music video star Denny Kwan into its offices to caution her to scale back the sexiness of her outfits.

In 2008, the Women’s Affairs Ministry requested that a website featuring topless Apsara dancers be shut down, with an official saying “these pictures affect social emotions, especially for Cambodian women, in a negative way.”

Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said the ministry may have good intentions, but the government should be very cautious about creating legislation that may both prove to be impossible to enforce and become a step toward Chinese-style internet censorship.

“If they continue to pick up on different angles of content on the internet and create legislation, it could amount to” censorship, Mr. Kol said. “It won’t be as free and democratic as is ideal for our country.”

The slide may have already begun, however. Two years ago, Information Ministry undersecretary of state Ouk Kimseng said the Information Ministry was compiling a list of “banned words” in an attempt to begin policing online media.

Last week, Mr. Kimseng said the government had yet to enact such regulations “for the time being,” but the ministry was holding workshops with media organizations to “remind them about the code of ethics.”

Facebook, which has 1.7 billion active users around the world, has always banned pornography and most nudity.

Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed outrage in December after a doctored photo of his wife, Bun Rany, was posted on Facebook with her legs spread in a manner he described as “inappropriate” for women.

In the courts, criminal convictions over Facebook postings have also begun to occur. A 25-year-old university student received an 18-month prison sentence in March over a comment on Facebook calling for a “color revolution.”

Two opposition lawmakers are in provisional detention over Facebook posts accusing the government of ceding land to Vietnam, while opposition leader Sam Rainsy is facing myriad legal suits over posts to his popular Facebook page.

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