Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

NGOs press the Cambodian government to revoke internet gateway law

Workers handle internet cables in Phnom Penh, February 15, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang
Workers handle internet cables in Phnom Penh, February 15, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang

Human Rights Watch and 32 other NGOs on Monday called on the government to revoke legislation for its controversial National Internet Gateway, saying it’s yet to address serious human rights concerns.

“The Cambodian government has been wholly non-transparent regarding the infrastructure, implementation, financing, and cooperating companies, agencies, and organization involved in supporting the NIG,” the statement said. “There are grave concerns that the gateway will supercharge the government’s censorship capabilities, allowing it to scale up its website blocking.”

In February 2021, the government passed a sub-decree allowing for the creation of a single digital gateway through which all internet traffic would pass. The UN Human Rights Council and other critics have maintained that such a gateway could give the government the power to censor and surveil.

Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, told CamboJA that the “all-encompassing” NIG would restrict free expression and the right to privacy.

‘’PM Hun Sen reveals his thin skin to public criticism by ordering his minions to chase down critical Facebook posts and comments, and evidently, he’s become tired of this Whac-a-Mole game so decided to control the whole system,” he said. “Governments and companies concerned for democracy and rights in Cambodia should stand up to this massive extension of government control into the online world in the country.”

Mikel Aquirre Idiaquez, Project Officer of UNESCO Cambodia, told CamboJA that UNESCO was carrying out a review of all Cambodian laws related to free expression and the media to ensure they met international rights standards.

‘’With digitalization, where all countries are facing the issue of disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech being circulated on digital platforms, it is also an opportunity for Cambodia to learn from the legislation and best practices of other countries that are in line with international human rights standards,” he said.

So Visothy, secretary of state of the Telecommunications Ministry, could not be reached, nor could other ministry officials. Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said he does not have any information of how or when the NIG will be implemented as it wasn’t under his authority.

The government has previously denied claims that the NIG was a violation of human rights. In a statement issued in February, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said the gateway was intended only to improve national security and revenue collection by facilitating and managing internet connections.

‘’Allegations that the establishment of an Internet portal allows the Cambodian authorities to monitor and monitor all online activities, seize and restrict digital communications, as well as store and share users’ data, create risks, and suppress the freedom of expression is an unfounded accusation,” the statement said.