CCHR Briefing Note – February 2016
An Overview of the Situation of Digital Rights in Cambodia
“The Internet is one of the most powerful instruments of the 21st century for increasing transparency
in the conduct of the powerful, access to information, and for facilitating active citizen participation
in building democratic societies.”
Frank La Rue, Former Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to
freedom of opinion and expression (“Special Rapporteur”), May 2011.
The number of internet users in the Kingdom of Cambodia (“Cambodia”) is growing exponentially;
the most recent estimate (from the second quarter of 2015) placed internet users at over 41% of the
population – an enormous leap compared with World Bank statistics from 2010, which indicated
that internet penetration stood at just 1.3%.1 An increasing number of netizens – including bloggers,
journalists, news outlets, non-governmental organizations (“NGOs”), activists, and university
students – have started to use the internet, especially social media sites, as a tool to spread
information and express political opinions.
The internet has quickly become the primary arena for free political debate in Cambodia, where
disenfranchised citizens are increasingly utilizing online activism to challenge widespread abuses and
demand political reform. From the perspective of civil society organizations (“CSOs”), online
communications have grown to be an essential tool in the realm of human rights and election
monitoring, enabling rapid reactions to incidences of human rights violations. In the past, the
internet has been a relatively free space in Cambodia; however, this protected status is being rapidly
eroded by a targeted crackdown on internet freedom and digital rights by the Royal Government of
Cambodia (“RGC”). At least seven people have been arrested for their comments online since August
2015, and all but one of these individuals remain in prison. In addition, at least 23 individuals have
been publicly threatened since August 2015 on the basis of social media comments.
The increasing prevalence of the internet as the primary medium for political debate is both an
opportunity and a threat to the promotion of human rights in Cambodia. While ordinary citizens
have more opportunities than ever to engage in the political process, the RGC has increased its
capacity to monitor content posted online, increasing the likelihood of those who are perceived to
‘Internet Subscribers,’ Telecommunication Regulator of Cambodia. Available at: http://bit.ly/1mfBlqa.