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Cambodia adopts China-style internet gateway amid opposition repression

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PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – The Cambodian government has issued a decree setting up a China-style Internet gateway that will allow Internet traffic to be controlled and monitored, raising local concern that democratic freedoms may be under threat.

Photograph Photograph: A person uses a smartphone to view the Facebook page of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen over breakfast at a restaurant in downtown Phnom Penh, Cambodia October 7, 2015. REUTERS / Samrang Pring

The 11-page decree announced Wednesday aims to facilitate and manage internet connections to help collect revenue, protect national security and preserve social order, culture and tradition.

The port operator shall support the authorities with measures to prevent and sever all network connections affecting national income, security, social order, morals, culture, traditions and customs.

It comes as Prime Minister Hun Sens’s government faces international criticism over a coup that has devastated civil society and political opposition, resulting in a monopoly of power for his party, and criminal charges and imprisonment for many of its rivals.

The gateway is similar to that of China, a key economic ally for Cambodia, which has seen its ties with the United States and the European Union deteriorate recently.

The decree gives service providers one year to connect to the gateway, but gave no timeline for its launch.

It requires service providers to make users fill out online forms with their correct identities and says not connecting networks to the gateway will result in the suspension of operating licenses and the freezing of bank accounts.

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

Recent years have seen a significant 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, Chak Sopheap told Reuters.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan had no internet orders in Cambodia and the decree was less intrusive than regulations in the United States and Britain.

Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Edited by Martin Petty

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