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

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs