Cambodia orders popular blog blocked

Bangkok, February 23, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by reports that Cambodian authorities have ordered local Internet service providers to block a number of websites, including the popular KI Media news aggregator and commentary blog, considered critical of the government.

Voice of America’s Khmer-language service reported on February 17 that it had been forwarded e-mail correspondence from a senior official in Cambodia’s Ministry of Post and Telecommunications (MPT) telling local ISPs–WiCam, Telesurf, and Hello–to censor websites that contained anti-government content.

The German Press Agency DPA reported that “several” websites critical of the government had gone offline in recent weeks, and that at least one local ISP carried a message that KI Media had been blocked “as ordered by the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications of Cambodia.” On February 17, the English-language daily Phnom Penh Post published minutes of a February 10 government meeting that quoted MPT Minister So Khum ordering mobile phone operators to block access to certain websites that were adversely affecting the country’s “morality and tradition.”  The Post reported that So Khum denied that the government ordered ISPs to block any websites.

“We are troubled by reports that Cambodia is increasingly curbing online freedom,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s Senior Southeast Asia Representative. “We urge Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government to immediately reverse course. The Internet is one of the few spaces left for free expression in Cambodia and that is how it should remain.”

Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodia People’s Party dominates the country’s print and broadcast media. There were previous indications that KI Media was at risk of censorship. In mid-December, the blog’s administrators directed readers to a Radio Free Asia story that outlined ways to circumvent online censorship. On December 19, a Cambodian court sentenced U.N. World Food Program employee and Cambodian national Seng Kunnaka to six months in prison for circulating articles posted on KI Media about a border dispute with Vietnam, according to news reports.