Internet Freedom Ranking Slips
Cambodia fell four spots in a 2016 ranking of internet freedom across the world released yesterday, with the organization behind it tying the drop to a spate of arrests for nothing more than Facebook posts and a much-maligned telecommunications law that critics say gives the government too much leeway to investigate, monitor and prosecute.
Freedom House, based in the United States, has consistently bumped Cambodia down each year since 2013. On a scale of zero to 100, with zero representing the most internet freedom and 100 the least, Cambodia notched a 52, up from 48 last year and 47 in 2014.
“Internet freedom has declined following a number of arrests for online speech and the passage of a problematic telecommunications law with inadequate protections for user privacy,” the group wrote.
The group specifically pointed to the detention of 25-year-old university student Kong Raya, who was arrested, convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison due to a Facebook post in which he called for a “color revolution” in Cambodia in March.
Former opposition senator Hong Sok Hour was sentenced to eight years in prison last week for posting a video to his Facebook page depicting a fake border treaty between Vietnam and Cambodia last year.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy is facing similar charges for the same video, which was also posted to his Facebook page.
Despite the low ranking, Cambodia can take solace in knowing that it was at least better than its neighbors Thailand and Vietnam, which scored abysmally with 66 and 76 respectively in the same ranking.
Government spokesperson Phay Siphan dismissed the report and called it a “foreign agent” that ignored Cambodia’s alleged human rights efforts.
“Freedom House is a foreign agent which issued this useless report. The report did not respond to the actual situation in Cambodia, which has respect for human rights and freedom of the internet,” he said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has made a point of going after his critics on the internet, personally responding to messages and excoriating those who disagree with him. A few of his internet squabbles have even turned into international rows, with the premier getting into fights with Vietnamese Facebook users earlier this year over their criticism of Cambodia’s relationship with China.
Although the government continues to claim it honors international human rights edicts and freedom of expression on the internet, a report by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) earlier this year showed a stark difference in its actions. The report pointed first to troubling parts of the Telecommunications Law, passed in November 2015.
“The Telecommunications Law increases the government’s control over the industry and seriously threatens the rights to privacy of correspondence and freedom of expression,” the report said.
“Under articles 6 and 7, the MPTC will have authority to order telecommunications providers to hand over data, systems and equipment, or transfer control of telecommunication systems to the ministry including ‘manipulation, defamation, and slanders’.”
CCHR said arrests and police action over Facebook posts increased greatly from August 2015 to this February, with seven people being arrested and 24 suffering public humiliation and violent threats after making comments on the internet.
The defamation law was being used against government critics online and it was threatening the democratic process, the report said.
“Activists and community leaders standing up for the rights of their fellow citizens are especially at risk of judicial harassment, including arbitrary arrest and detention and unfair convictions,” CCHR wrote in March.
“Cambodian senior politicians have recognized the value of social networks that bring them closer to ordinary people, but they should not prevent the use of social networks to promote a democracy participation to express views and other opinions.”
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