02/18/2021, 12.32
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Cambodia adopts China-style Internet control

Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government issue a decree to “better” manage the flow of news and network traffic, ostensibly to protect the country’s traditions, morals and national security. In reality, the goal is to manage and repress dissent. For activists, the decree threatens more and more people.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Beijing is providing Cambodia more than economic aid, as the South-East Asian nation adopts its model of information control to suppress all forms of dissent on the Internet, blocking topics and news at the source.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government have issued a decree to manage online traffic and news information, ostensibly to protect national security and maintain order.

Human rights groups and other NGOs warn that this will have a negative impact on privacy, freedom of speech, and the protection of personal data.

The main element of the government’s decree is a China-style Internet gateway designed to control and monitor the Internet.

The 11-page decree announced on Wednesday seeks to control internet connections to help maintain Cambodia’s social order.

The gateway’s operator will support the authorities with “measures to prevent and disconnect all network connections that affect national income, security, social order, morality, culture, traditions and customs”.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government have been criticised abroad recently for their campaign of repression against the opposition, which has strengthened the ruling party’s power monopoly and left its rivals facing charges and trials.

Cambodia’s gateway, analysts and experts say, is similar to that of China, its main ally in the Asia-Pacific region. Increasingly, Cambodia’s relationship with the Asian giant is overtaking that with the United States and the European Union.

Economic ties trump rights and freedoms with the novel coronavirus favouring greater state monitoring at the expense of privacy.

With respect to COVID-19, Hun Sen did his utmost at the start of the pandemic, when its scope was not yet clear, to maintain the “friendship” with Beijing, despite the dangers to public health.

With the new law, service providers will have to provide the correct identity of users, and could lose their operating licence and have their bank accounts frozen if they fail to do so.

Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said the law had implications for free speech, privacy, data protection and public information, and Cambodia’s legal framework offered little protection for digital freedoms.

“The last few years have seen a sharp increase in the number of citizens being threatened, harassed and even prosecuted for their use of the Internet and for exercising their right to free speech,” he said.

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