Cambodia steps up surveillance with new web gateway


Phnom Penh (AFP) – Cambodia is powering up its new Nationwide Web Gateway, a transfer activists say will permit the federal government to additional silence the nation’s embattled opposition voices.

UN rights consultants warn the gateway, which is able to funnel all internet visitors by means of a state-controlled entry level from February 16, may have a “devastating” impact on privateness and free speech.

It’s the newest transfer by authoritarian ruler Hun Sen to clamp down on dissent in a rustic that has arrested dozens for on-line posts lately, critics say.

Hip-hop artist Kea Sokun, whose lyrics about injustice and corruption have struck a chord with Cambodia’s disaffected youth, was amongst these jailed.

As his music clocked up tens of millions of views on YouTube, plainclothes police got here knocking in September 2020.

“They saved asking who was backing me?” Kea Sokun informed AFP.

He was arrested and convicted of incitement, spending a yr behind bars, and now fears the brand new gateway will result in extra folks struggling the identical destiny.

Cambodian hip-hop artist Kea Sokun spent a year behind bars for incitement after his music about injustice and corruption racked up million of views on YouTube
Cambodian hip-hop artist Kea Sokun spent a yr behind bars for incitement after his music about injustice and corruption racked up million of views on YouTube TANG CHHIN Sothy AFP

“Will probably be troublesome to freely specific opinions,” he stated.

“They arrested me so as to intimidate others.”

Final yr, an autistic teenager, the son of a jailed opposition determine, was sentenced to eight months in jail for Telegram messages deemed insulting to the federal government.

Clampdown on dissent

Web gateways are the factors on a community the place a rustic connects to the worldwide internet.

As soon as totally operational, Cambodia’s new Nationwide Web Gateway will channel all visitors by means of a single entry level managed by the federal government.

Web service suppliers will likely be ordered to dam web sites and connections that adversely have an effect on “nationwide income, security, social order, morality, tradition, traditions and customs”.

UN rights experts have warned that Cambodia's new internet gateway will have a "devastating" effect on privacy and free speech
UN rights consultants have warned that Cambodia’s new web gateway may have a “devastating” impact on privateness and free speech TANG CHHIN Sothy AFP/File

UN rights consultants warned earlier this month that the sweeping new powers will additional shrink what’s left of the area for dissent in Cambodia, the place Hun Sen has buttressed his 37-year rule by steadily rolling again democratic freedoms.

The Cambodian Heart for Human Rights (CCHR) says the brand new gateway will give the previous Khmer Rouge cadre but extra methods to silence opposing voices.

In 2021, not less than 39 Cambodians have been arrested, jailed or had arrest warrants issued towards them for on-line posts that fell foul of presidency censors, in keeping with the CCHR.

Elections are anticipated subsequent yr, and the CCHR says the completion of the gateway now may permit the federal government to dam dissenting views on-line within the run-up to polls.

Cybersecurity professional Matt Warren, from Australia’s RMIT College, stated there could possibly be makes an attempt to silence high-profile opposition figures dwelling in exile from weighing into the home political debate forward of the 2023 polls.

“Will Cambodians outdoors the nation be capable of participate within the social dialogue in the course of the election?” Warren stated.

Thailand’s then-ruling junta mulled introducing a single web gateway in 2015 however backed down within the face of opposition from enterprise.

Except for the privateness and rights considerations, business figures warn that funneling all visitors by means of a single level leaves the nation extremely susceptible to being minimize off — both on account of a technical fault or a cyber assault.


Authorities spokesman Phay Siphan insisted the web gateway is required to crack down on cyber-crime, preserve nationwide safety and accumulate income.

Cambodians wanted to grasp that freedom of “expression comes with tasks” and that “insulting or manipulating info can have an effect on nationwide safety or people’ reputations,” he stated.

Cambodians may find messages from high-profile opposition figures living abroad blocked under the kingdom's new internet regime
Cambodians could discover messages from high-profile opposition figures dwelling overseas blocked underneath the dominion’s new web regime TANG CHHIN Sothy AFP

However the brand new gateway seems to be taking Cambodia down a path overwhelmed by China, which maintains much more refined digital instruments to observe and censor the web for its residents, conserving the web world behind a “Nice Firewall” and blocking main Western platforms corresponding to Twitter, Fb and YouTube.

“It is the Balkanisation of the web. You’ve got received the web in China, you’ve got received the Russian web, you’ve got received the web in Saudi Arabia, the place they’re remoted and monitored,” Warren informed AFP.

“It isn’t nearly censorship, it is also about management.”

The Cambodian authorities’s largest worry, Warren stated, is that its folks may take inspiration from anti-coup campaigners in Myanmar, who used social media platforms to organise mass protests towards the junta.

Because the gateway’s completion day looms, many Cambodians are turning to digital non-public networks (VPNs) to skirt on-line censorship.

Top10VPN, a Britain-based digital safety advocacy group, stated there had been a 56 p.c surge in demand for VPN accounts in Cambodia in December.

Up to now, there aren’t any stories of authorities cracking down on VPN use.

“Nevertheless, wherever there are long-term authorities restrictions on web entry, VPN bans are positive to comply with,” head researcher Simon Migliano informed AFP.

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