Monday, 14 February 2011 22:04 James O’Toole and Sam Rith
The government has ordered at least one internet service provider to block opposition news blog KI-Media, a company staffer confirmed today, amid reports from users of multiple ISPs that the site was inaccessible.
The news comes less than one month after users of the Ezecom and Metfone ISPs reported that the site had been temporarily blocked. A customer service representative for Ezecom told The Post at the time that his manager had instructed him to block access to KI-Media on the government’s orders, though state officials and the firm’s CEO denied that there had been any such request.
Today, however, users of the WiCam ISP attempting to access KI-Media received a message stating that the site had been “blocked as ordered by the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications of Cambodia”.
A WiCam employee who asked to remain anonymous said today that his company had been ordered to block the site several weeks ago in an email from staff at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications who said KI-Media “impacts the government”.
WiCam, he said, had restricted access to the site intermittently over the past few weeks before blocking it today.
“The ministry told us that they would make a report to the top level if we did not block the website,” the employee said, adding that such requests were common in many countries.
“My company does business in Cambodia, so we have to obey them,” he said.
Metfone and Ezecom users also reported today that they could not access the site.
Metfone users attempting to access KI-Media and another anti-government blog, Khmerization, were redirected to local news portal everyday.com.kh.
Ezecom CEO Paul Blanche-Horgan said he had received “no directive from the government to do anything”.
“We’ve had about two or three people ask us about it, but sometimes [the technical problem] can be on their end,” he said.
Representatives from Metfone could not be reached for comment.
Mao Chakrya, director general of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, said there had been “no order” given by his ministry to block KI-Media. Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said in an email that the government was committed to protecting political speech, even in view of the role social media websites have played in recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
“The government [will not] block any website even if the whole Middle East collapses by this so-called ‘people power’,” he said.
Users of Metfone and Ezecom said today that they could still access a KI-Media mirror site hosted by wordpress.com.
KI-Media made the news in December when Seng Kunnaka, a security guard employed by the United Nations World Food Programme, received a six-month jail term for incitement just days after he was arrested for printing out an article from the website and sharing it with co-workers.
The blog is maintained by a mix of local residents and overseas Cambodians operating under pseudonyms who reproduce articles from local and international news outlets in addition to posting original essays and political cartoons.
The administrators are strongly pro-Sam Rainsy Party, labeling the eponymous opposition leader a “hero” and officials including Prime Minister Hun Sen “traitors” in a banner on the KI-Media homepage.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said in a statement today that the site’s blockage “is clear evidence that the government is working to ensure that online democratic space is policed and controlled in much the same way as traditional forums for communicating ideas and criticisms”.
“Online activism is increasing in Cambodia and this is proof that the government fears the creation of a digital democracy which permits the sharing of grievances, criticisms and opinions which run counter to those of the government,” he said.
KI-Media was available this evening via ISPs including Mobitel and MekongNet.
Cambodia Data Communications CEO Sok Channda, whose company runs MekongNet, said she did not know of any government order to block the blog, though she added that her firm would willingly comply with any such request.
“If the government asks, we need to block it,” she said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY THOMAS MILLER AND SEBASTIAN STRANGIO