Data protection is needed in Cambodia to address self-censorship arising from the monitoring and persecution of online users. This was the key theme that emerged during the online launch of Asia Centre’s baseline study: “Internet Freedoms in Cambodia: A Gateway to Control” on 1 September 2021.
In his opening remarks, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Vitit Muntarbhorn stated that the government needs to comply with international human rights standards. Given decreasing internet freedoms in Cambodia, he recommended that data protection and access to information be instituted to enable people to express their opinion without fear.
Dr. James Gomez, Asia Centre’s Regional Director presented the report. He said provisions in the constitution, the penal code, the law on telecommunications, the inter-ministerial Prakas No.170, the national internet gateway and the draft of cyber crime law allow the government to monitor and persecute online users resulting in fear. Hence, people have become reluctant to express their political opinion online. This has led to acute self-censorship that has caused people to refrain from posting and sharing information, only consume online content privately, cease accessing political content and avoid online political participation.
In responding to the report, Sokunthea Chhan, Media Development Director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM), expressed her concern over the safety of female journalists. In particular, independent female journalists who work on human rights, politics and environment issues. She pointed out that 3 female journalists have recently been jailed by the government for simply reporting the news.
Him Khortieth, Research & Advocacy Manager of the Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association (CamboJA), shared that 90.65% of the journalists in Cambodia are concerned for their safety when reporting on scandals and over 80 % are similarly concerned when reporting on human rights issues. In 2021, 40 persons were arrested for questioning the government’s handling of the pandemic and 7 of the media outlets had their licenses revoked for “stealing information” and incitement over fake news.
Soung Khoy, Child and Youth Empowerment Coordinator at the Child Rights Coalition Cambodia, explained the fear among the younger generation in accessing information and producing content. He said that people in Cambodia, especially children and youth, are afraid of legal charges for posting or commenting online. Some are even weary to express their own political opinion over the internet or even talk about human rights and social justice using their private platforms.
Wrapping up the discussion, Dr. Robin Ramcharan, executive director at Asia Centre, emphasized the importance of data protection legislation as it can ensure people’s safety while accessing information and expressing their views online. In this context, a data protection and privacy act can shield people in Cambodia from undue surveillance and sharing of their personal information. This can prevent the use of personal data for political persecution and reduce fear among online users.
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