Feb 16, 2011
Phnom Penh - A human rights group on Wednesday condemned the apparent blocking of several websites critical of the Cambodian government, saying the move marked 'a significant milestone in the march toward a more oppressive media environment.'
Naly Pilorge, the director of the LICADHO rights group, said the denials by internet service providers that they were doing the government's bidding were 'not fooling anyone.'
The providers 'can play with words all they want, but at the end of the day, this still amounts to censorship,' she said.
The government has repeatedly said it has not ordered the providers to block access to websites, including KI-Media, a news aggregator and comment site that strongly favours the political opposition and is often critical of the ruling party.
But several websites critical of the government have gone offline in recent weeks. Service providers have officially denied blocking the sites or being asked to do so by the government.
However, this week, one provider carried a message stating that access to KI-Media had been blocked 'as ordered by the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications of Cambodia.'
The Phnom Penh Post newspaper on Wednesday quoted So Khun, the Minister of Post and Telecommunications, again denying the government had issued any order to block KI-Media.
But the paper carried minutes of a February 10 meeting that showed So Khun had asked mobile phone operators to help block traffic to some websites.
'[So Khun] made a request to all operators to cooperate in curbing some websites that affect Cambodian morality and tradition and the government through using the internet,' the newspaper said, quoting the minutes.
Late last year, a senior official told Radio Free Asia that the government would shut down KI-Media by the end of the year. That statement came days after the website published articles that were critical of him and other members of the government.
KI-Media is a controversial and at times vitriolic site, listing opposition politicians as 'heroes' and a number of ruling party members, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, as 'traitors.'
The censorship row comes as the UN special envoy for human rights, Surya Subedi, started his fourth trip to Cambodia this week.
Official figures showed Cambodia had nearly 175,000 internet subscribers at the end of 2010, a rapid increase from 30,000 the previous year.