Wednesday, 16 February 2011 20:03 Thomas Miller
The government requested that 10 internet service providers block several sites earlier this month, according to a leaked email, despite claims from officials that no such order exists.
In the email, obtained today by The Post, Sieng Sithy, deputy director of the Directorate of Telecommunications Policy Regulation at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, wrote to 10 local ISPs to thank them for their efforts to block a series of sites.
“I am writing to extend my appreciation to you all for your cooperation with MPTC,” Sieng Sithy said in the email, which was sent to the ISPs Ezecom, Metfone, Citylink, Digi, AngkorNet, WiCam, TC, Camnet, Online and Camintel.
The email listed a series of popular antigovernment blog sites that were targeted by the MPTC, including KI-Media and several of its mirror sites, Khmerization and the website of several cartoonists including Sacrava.
“Again and again [sic], In case of not well cooperation is your own responsibility. Hightly [sic] appreciate for your cooperation,” the email stated.
He explicitly named three ISPs – WiCAM, TeleSurf and Hello – who had not yet blocked the sites and urged them to do so.
“We found that you are not yet taken an action, so please kindly take immediate action,” Sieng Sithy said.
The email referred to a February 10 meeting between ISPs and MPTC officials, during which Minister of Posts and Telecommunications So Khun asked for “cooperation” in blocking access to several unnamed sites, according to official minutes.
“In the meeting, His Excellency said that the Royal Government did not have a principle of blocking some websites, but His Excellency made a request to all operators to cooperate in curbing some websites that affect Khmer morality and tradition and the government through using the internet,” say minutes kept by the ministry, a copy of which was obtained by The Post.
Sieng Sithy, who declined to comment today, also attached to the message a “report on observing the website KI”.
So Khun today maintained his position that the government has no policy to censor websites.
“We don’t have any policy to shut down, to close the sites,” he said. “Sometimes … there is a problem with the ISP.”
Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said the reported blockage was most likely a public relations strategy employed by the bloggers.
“I think this is the way KI-Media advertised their group or the strategy of ISP to be known,” he wrote in an email.
“It’s a nonsense that you ask only one ISP to block a website.
‘‘If the government decide to block it the order must be to all ISP.”
Internet users have reported that they could not access the site KI-Media through at least four ISPs: Online, WiCam, Metfone and Ezecom.
On Monday, WiCam users told The Post that they were unable to access KI-Media, which was replaced by a message, signed by “WiCam Tech Support” saying the site had been “blocked as ordered” by MPTC.
The message has since been changed and now states: “the requested URL could not be retrieved”.
Employees of two ISPs confirmed today they had received the email request from Sieng Sithy. Sok Channda, CEO of Cambodia Data Communications, which operates MekongNet and AngkorNet, said she had received the email, but no official letter from the government.
“We work on the letter, not email.
“If the government orders, they send us a letter,” she said.
“We do business under the government and the government allows us the license… We must follow but we cannot follow just email or phone call.”
Support staff at Online said they were not blocking any sites.
“We don’t block any websites but our ISP cannot access them. Maybe it’s related to authorisation from KI-Media,” she said.
Paul Blanche-Horgan, CEO of Ezecom, said today he had not seen the Ministry’s email.
He said the reported blockage was still a technical problem, as he has said previously, but didn’t know when it would be fixed.
“It’s still the same answer,” he said.
KI-Media is maintained by several domestic and overseas bloggers who aggregate Cambodia-related news articles with a mix of political commentary and satirical cartoons.
The human rights group Licadho issued a statement today condemning the “ongoing censorship of the Internet in Cambodia”.
“The internet was the only audio or visual media not fully controlled by the government.
“The censoring of controversial Web sites marks a significant milestone in the march toward a more oppressive media environment,” said Licadho president Pung Chhiv Kek.
Licadho said its staff had sent “repeated requests” to Ezecom once various websites became inaccessible starting February 10, but Ezecom had not resolved the issue as of Tuesday.
Naly Pilorge, director of Licadho, said there was little effective difference for companies between an order and a request from the government, but that ISPs should choose to provide open access.
“It’s not up to the company to designate what its paying clients can view and cannot view,” she said.
“The company’s responsibility is to provide the service and that means a free internet.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SAM RITH AND JEREMY MULLINS