Under a new decree, all web traffic will be routed through a government portal. Rights groups say a crackdown on digital expression is about to get worse. From a report: The day Kea Sokun was arrested in Cambodia, four men in plainclothes showed up at his photography shop near Angkor Wat and carted him off to the police station. Mr. Kea Sokun, who is also a popular rapper, had released two songs on YouTube, and the men said they needed to know why he’d written them. “They kept asking me: âWho is behind you? What party do you vote for?'” Mr. Kea Sokun said. “I told them, ‘I have never even voted, and no one controls me.'” The 23-year-old artist, who says his songs are about everyday struggles in Cambodia, was sentenced to 18 months in an overcrowded prison after a judge found him guilty of inciting social unrest with his lyrics. His case is part of a crackdown in which dozens have been sent to jail for posting jokes, poems, pictures, private messages and songs on the internet.
The ramped-up scrutiny reflects an increasingly restrictive digital environment in Cambodia, where a new law will allow the authorities to monitor all web traffic in the country. Critics say that the decree puts Cambodia on a growing list of countries that have embraced China’s authoritarian model of internet surveillance, from Vietnam to Turkey, and that it will deepen the clash over the future of the web. Cambodia’s National Internet Gateway, set to begin operating on Feb. 16, will send all internet traffic — including from abroad — through a government-run portal. The gateway, which is mandatory for all service providers, gives state regulators the means to “prevent and disconnect all network connections that affect national income, security, social order, morality, culture, traditions and customs.” Government surveillance is already high in Cambodia. Each ministry has a team that monitors the internet. Offending content is reported to an internet crime unit in the Ministry of Interior, the center of the country’s robust security apparatus. Those responsible can be charged with incitement and sent to prison.