News / Asia

Cambodia's Draft Cybercrime Law Worrying, Say Critics

FILE - Lary, 27, takes a picture with his tablet in Phnom Penh.
FILE - Lary, 27, takes a picture with his tablet in Phnom Penh.
Robert Carmichael
Work on Cambodia's secretive Cybercrime Law has been going on behind closed doors for two years, with the government so far refusing any input from civil society groups. Recently, though, a copy of the draft was leaked. Some of the proposal's provisions have raised concerns that Cambodia's ruling party could one day use the law to target its critics.
 
Britain-based information freedom group Article 19 has released a scathing assessment of Cambodia's draft Cybercrime Law. The group said measures in the bill fall well below international standards, threatening freedom of expression in Cambodia.
 
The draft law, on which work started two years ago, has assumed increasing relevance since July's general election, which the ruling Cambodian People's Party, or CPP, narrowly won, taking around half the vote and 68 of parliament's 123 seats.
 
The CPP has for years benefited from exerting complete control over all local television, along with most radio stations and newspapers.
 
That led their political opponents to turn to Facebook, YouTube and other online tools to communicate with supporters. As a result, the CPP was thoroughly outmaneuvered online, and the opposition took 55 seats in parliament, almost double its previous total. Opposition supporters have since claimed that the ruling party cheated its way to victory.
 
Political analyst Ou Virak said the CPP completely underestimated the potential of the online space, and that its efforts to catch up since then have failed. Virak pointed out that the provisions of the draft Cybercrime Law, which the government wants to put before parliament this year, need to be seen in that context.
 
“The ruling party is certainly frustrated at the fact that they cannot win the battle online. They have no idea what to do. They tried different things. They tried throwing a lot of money, and that didn't work. So they're obviously frustrated. And this is why the Cybercrime Law is going to be one that the government is looking at as a potential tool. Because they don't know how to respond. Certainly the election is something that is on the government's mind,” said Virak.
 
Virak said the ruling party knows it needs to do something to regain support. He argued that if the party was younger and less bureaucratic, it could try to adapt and compete for political allegiance of the country's million-plus young Facebook users and the three million other online users.
 
“But I don't think that's possible with this government. And, so yes, they will respond with trying to introduce different legislation so they can have their way,” said Virak.
 
The Cybercrime Law could also affect foreign hackers who have made Cambodia their home base for launching cyberattacks abroad.
 
On Tuesday, the government announced that it had worked with the FBI to arrest two local hackers with the online Anonymous collective. The U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment on the grounds that the investigation is ongoing.
 
Several clauses of the draft Cybercrime Law contain serious punishments.
 
For example, posting information online that a government-appointed committee deems harmful to the country's sovereignty or integrity could result in three years in jail. Other similar vague crimes include: affecting "the integrity of any government agencies or ministries or officials"; inciting "anarchism"; or causing insecurity.
 
Those found guilty could also be stripped of their civic rights and barred from their profession for life.
 
Asked to comment on the draft law, the U.S. Embassy said it understood that some independent analysts had voiced concerns about the bill on the grounds that it was overly broad and could be used to restrict online freedom of expression. An embassy spokesman said the U.S. strongly supports freedom of expression whether online or offline, and encouraged the Cambodian government to consult more widely on the draft.
 
Leewood Phu, who advises the Cambodian government on information technology, suggested much the same to the drafting committee. But, he said, the committee ignored the advice.
 
“It does not include the process of making law in a democratic country. You have to have some kind of background paper on it, and then you have to have some kind of White Paper on it, and then for public to comment on the White Paper, and then once the public is finished then you can put it to the Council of Ministers and pass it, and then to the National Assembly to pass it. But the process wasn't there,” said Phu.
 
There are other problems with the draft, added Phu, including that the committee did not consult any judges or lawyers - which is why punishments for similar crimes committed offline are far less severe than for their online equivalents.
 
Information rights group Article 19 has called on the government to consult with civil society before the draft goes any further. It's not clear whether that will happen. Despite repeated efforts, VOA was unable to reach Prak Sokhon, the minister for post and telecommunications, and two officials involved in drafting the law have so far declined to comment.

You May Like

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

Ali Regained Title in Historic Fight 40 Years Ago

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid