PHNOM PENH, Feb 20 (AFP): The Cambodian government moved to exercise almost total control over the country’s online life this week after setting up a national internet portal that activists say would stifle freedom of expression and block content through a China style firewall.
Cambodia has seen a rapid increase in internet use in recent years, and the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen – which ousted the main opposition party in 2017 – has intensified a crackdown on online dissent.
A government spokesman dismissed concerns over the gateway (NIG), a system that would send all international internet connections through a single entry point, saying it would prevent cybercrime and promote “national interests”. “.
But Phay Siphan also told AFP authorities “will destroy those (internet users) who want to create rebellion” against the government.
A sub-decree signed by Hun Sen and taken by AFP on Wednesday stated that the NIG would control internet connections to increase “national revenue collection, protect national security and maintain social order”.
He instructed the gateway operator to work with Cambodian authorities “to take action to block and disconnect any network connection” that was deemed to oppose these intentions, or to violate “morals, culture, traditions and customs”.
The operator will be required to submit regular internet traffic reports to the authorities.
Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the NIG would facilitate mass surveillance, through the interception and censorship of digital communications and the collection of personal data.
“The establishment of the NIG is a major concern for the future of fundamental human rights in Cambodia,” she said, adding that “it will become another instrument for the Royal Government of Cambodia to control and monitor the flow of information in Cambodia.” “.
Ith Sothoeuth, director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, said the ambiguous language in the document gave him the power to block critical comments about the government.
“Worrying,” he said.
Comparisons have been made with China’s “Great Firewall”, which sets up a vast and sophisticated state of surveillance to clean up the dissident internet, and prevents citizens from accessing international social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Internet subscriptions in Cambodia have increased over the past decade, from 5 million in 2014 to 20.3 million last year, according to government statistics.
Facebook is the most popular social media platform in Cambodia with almost 11 million users.
Hun Sen is one of the longest-lived leaders in the world, holding a 36-year’s grip on power with methods critics say include political opponents and prison activists. – AFP
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