Social Media Arrests Stunt Web Freedom

Internet freedom has diminished in Cambodia over the past year due to arrests over social media posts and a new telecoms law that gives the government broad control over mobile phone and internet providers, a new report says.

Internet access has expanded rapidly in recent years, thanks largely to the spread of smartphones, a trend that has loosened the ruling CPP’s grip on information and made much of the population less reliant on traditional media outlets.

But the government has taken steps over the past year to exert more control over the web, causing a steep decline in internet freedom, U.S.-based think tank Freedom House says in its new report “Silencing the Messenger: Communication Apps under Pressure.”

The report gives Cambodia a score of 52 out of 100 and the label of “partly free,” placing it well ahead of Vietnam, which has the least free internet in Southeast Asia, and well behind the Philippines, which has the most open internet in the region.

“Cambodia passed an overly broad telecommunications law that put the industry under government control, to the detriment of service providers and user privacy,” the report says. “Separately, Cambodian police arrested several people for their Facebook posts, including one about a border dispute with Vietnam.”

Opposition lawmaker Um Sam An, arrested in April over posts critical of the government’s border work, is among an increasing number of Cambodians finding themselves behind bars for Facebook posts deemed criminal by the government.

Ouk Kimseng, an undersecretary of state at the Information Ministry, said the posts were in fact criminal and that non-government groups would be far more helpful if they helped educate people about responsible internet use.

“I don’t think just because a few people are arrested…freedom is being restricted. That is not true,” he said, adding that expanding Internet access and the lack of state censorship showed the government’s commitment to internet freedom.

“There are no regulations or restrictions on people using the internet,” he said. “They can surf anywhere.”

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