Though many opposition sites are blocked in Cambodia, the government has dismissed rumours that it ordered internet service providers, or ISPs, to block access to those sites. But the truth may finally have come out.
Cambodia's government is denying urging internet providers to block sites
Going online is still a relatively new experience in Cambodia, but one that is growing much more common, particularly in urban areas.
But for weeks now, users of EZECOM, one of the growing service providers, have complained that they are unable to access a number of sites, including one called KI-Media, a pro-opposition party website that is highly critical of the government.
Though EZECOM has denied blocking access to any websites or receiving any orders from the government to do so, an email was leaked this week from a senior official at the telecommunications ministry.
Cambodia, one of the poorest nations in South East Asia, has a small but growing internet community
The email, which ran in the Phnom Penh Post newspaper on Thursday, puts paid to those denials, since it congratulates ten ISPs, including EZECOM, for blocking access to a list of websites, including KI-Media.
Human rights group LICADHO, which releases an annual report on the state of Cambodia’s media, says news of covert censorship is worrying. Mathieu Pellerin of LICADHO told Deutsche Welle, "what we’ve confirmed this week is basically one of the last unregulated spaces for people to express themselves on a variety of subjects, political or otherwise, has been officially now censored by the government, which is a huge unfortunate milestone in terms of freedom of expression in Cambodia and further shrinks the space that Cambodians have to express themselves."
But not all websites are blocked, so the question is, how significant is this?
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls on nations to exercise freedom of expression in both traditional and online media
Too much state control
Pellerin said every television station in Cambodia and most radio outlets are aligned with the ruling party. That increases the importance of the internet all the more, despite the fact that Cambodia’s internet community is small. Pellerin added, "you don’t have as many sites as you would have in other countries, as there are very few sites, actually. But in a smaller pool of sites, that affects quite a lot of viewers and these sites that have been censored were quite popular with the Cambodian community."
For its part, the government still continues to deny there is any policy to block access to websites.
Despite the fact that the email was leaked, along with minutes of a meeting in which the order was given to block certain sites, So Khun, Minister for Posts and Telecommunications reiterated again on Thursday that there is nothing to the claims.
Could the sun be setting on Cambodia's internet communities?
"No policy of blocking sites"
EZECOM has not commented and has also denied Deutsche Welle’s requests for an interview.
The issue of governments controlling internet access is nothing new, and came to the fore again in recent weeks after the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.
Freedom of expression in traditional media and online were recently emphasized in a speech by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She said the US supports that freedom for people everywhere, and has called on other nations to do the same.
For now that call seems to have fallen on deaf ears in Cambodia.
Author: Robert Carmichael
Editor: Sarah Berning