The Cambodian authorities should immediately reform laws, policies and practices that have led to increasing violations of human rights in the digital sphere, the ICJ said in a new report launched today.
The 80-page report, Dictating the Internet: Curtailing Free Expression and Information Online in Cambodia, documents a range of new and existing laws that does not comply with international human rights law and standards. These laws contain vague and overbroad provisions, wrongly criminalize free expression and/or prescribe disproportionately harsh penalties, and are applied without independent oversight mechanisms.
These arbitrary restrictions have intensified in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, under an overly expansive justification of curbing “false information” in order to protect public health.
“Instead of repealing or amending existing fatally flawed laws that are used to unduly restrict human rights in the digital space, the Cambodian authorities have instead passed and drafted new laws that are patently incompatible with its international human rights obligations to tighten its control over the Internet,” said Daron Tan, ICJ Legal Consultant.
These new laws include the Law on the Management of the Nation in Emergencies, Sub-Decree on the Establishment of the National internet Gateway, and Law on Preventive Measures Against the Spread of COVID-19 and other Severe and Dangerous Contagious Diseases.
“The Cambodian authorities have invoked these new laws, in addition to existing vague and overbroad laws, to target and sanction social media users, human rights defenders, journalists, media platforms, women and perceived political opponents, in violation of the rights to online freedom of expression and information, privacy, peaceful assembly, health, fair trial and non-discrimination,” added Tan.
The report also raises concerns over the extent to which social media platforms, in particular Facebook, have been complicit in enabling online censorship. The report underscores how Facebook has not been fully transparent about the demands it has received from the government to restrict content on its platforms, and the manner in which it has responded to these demands.
The report provides specific recommendations to the Cambodian authorities and technological companies in the communications sector to safeguard in law and practice the rights to expression, opinion and information online as well as offline. These recommendations call for the authorities to, among other recommendations:
- Repeal or substantially amend legal provisions that serve to criminalize or unduly restrict the rights to freedom of expression, information, association, political participation and other rights online as well as offline;
- Cease harassment or persecution of all individuals solely for exercising their rights to free expression, information and peaceful assembly online, through the abuse of laws and administrative regulations; and
- Drop all charges, issue non-prosecution orders, and refrain from further charges, particularly at the very inception of any such lawsuit, against any individual, including those named in this report, facing prosecution for alleged violation of laws that are not compliant with human rights standards or which have been applied in a manner inconsistent with human right standards.
The report follows on from the ICJ’s December 2019 regional report entitled Dictating the Internet: Curtailing Free Expression, Opinion and Information Online in Southeast Asia assessing non-human rights compliant legal frameworks and case studies across Southeast Asia, including Cambodia.
Please watch the following video that presents some of the key issues discussed in the report:
Daron Tan, ICJ Legal Consultant, email: daron.tan(a)icj.org
ICJ, ‘Southeast Asia: ICJ launches report on increasing restrictions on online speech’, 11 December 2019
ICJ, ‘Cambodia: Stop silencing critical commentary on COVID-19’, 25 May 2021NewsPublications