Sunday, August 19, 2012


500 riel note, stuck in my journal that first week in Cambodia
It's my Cambodia anniversary. Nineteen years ago today we arrived in Phnom Penh, by mini-van from Saigon. I recall my primary concerns of the time were safety, the price of a ticket at Angkor and the infamous Cambodian amoebae. I had no real plans of staying more than a week or two, but here I am 19 years later. The following are excerpts from my journal entries that first day and from a long-winded letter to a friend written a couple of days later (mostly journal rewrites.) A different Cambodia through different eyes.
This place is dark. Cambodia. Steeped in history still in the making. Khmer Rouge, American bombing, Pol Pot, genocide, war, UN, more war…and here we are, in Phnom Penh. We took a van in from Ho Chi Minh City today. I never thought I'd really come here.
We were originally planning to go back to Bangkok after Vietnam, perhaps find some teaching jobs there, but we met a couple of women at a café in Saigon who had just come back from Cambodia last week. They told us the UN is leaving the country and that there are lots of jobs available and a shortage of people. But safety is a big concern. There is a war going on here and tourists have been killed... On the other hand, several travelers fresh back from Cambodia all agreed that Phnom Penh and the road there from Saigon has long been firmly in government hands and that the military problems are confined to the other side of the country. So we decided to at least check out Phnom Penh.
It took about 8 hours on the road. We came through the Moc Bai crossing - a couple of wood shacks for the immigration cops and a 300 yard walk through no-mans-land between checkpoints. Like the Lao Bao crossing with Laos, streams of local people move in both directions, carrying huge loads of goods, perhaps contraband - Coca-Cola, cigarettes, beer, kitchenware, shrimp chips - dangling from shoulder sticks and sometimes just piled on their backs. Once on the Cambodian side we (Lucy) negotiated a van for the four of us the rest of the way to Phnom Penh - $15, good price.

The road from the border to Phnom Penh was paved but rough. The few people we saw looked very poor. People, often children, squatted along the shoulder at points, begging for money from vehicles passing at more than 40mph. I didn't understand what they were doing at first. I still don't. Am I supposed to throw money out of a moving car?
The countryside we drove through seemed barren compared to Vietnam, far fewer structures and houses, and I saw some signs of the war, old blast marks on a couple of buildings. When our van reached the edge of Phnom Penh the driver pulled over in an empty parking lot in the middle of nowhere and told us that if we wanted to be taken all the way to the hotel it would cost another $5. Lucy's 'forceful' negotiations ("no go hotel I pay $5 less!") got us the rest of the way to the Capitol Guesthouse at no extra charge, where we are staying now. Which turns out to be a backpacker dump. We came here on the recommendation of the same people that told us Phnom Penh is safe. Hmmm. Actually, I am not sure if it's much worse than anything else that might be available here.

Lots of backpackers here. The place seems full. The room is small and dank, the bed hard, the walls and door very thin and there is a group of 'vocal' Israeli backpackers partying hardy in the hallway. Interesting restaurant downstairs though. Full of travelers. Exposed fluorescent tubes lighting dirty tile walls, folding tables, cheap traveler's food, and a little cigarette stand at the side where the lady also sells palm-size plastic packets of leafy old ganja for 500 Riel (20 cents). Glueless rolling papers included free of charge. How do glueless papers work anyway? People twist up and smoke right in the restaurant. That particular traveler's tale seems to be proving true.

It's late now…well, 10:30 or so. The restaurant closed at nine, driving us up to our noisy little wood cell. A balcony runs around the front of the hotel with a good view of the street below, obscured only by a utility pole standing within arm's reach, densely cocooned in a meter-thick bundle of ragged electrical wires and cables.
For all the wires I would have thought there'd be some lights on somewhere, but there are almost none - absolutely no street lights at all and most of the house lighting I can see seems to be from candles. It's very dark. The streets are puddled from the rain and seem almost empty save the occasional passing motorcycle. It's Thursday night, not that late, in the middle of the city and yet it's almost dead quiet. Why? I saw a group of armed men, soldiers I think, walk by. Maybe that has something to do with it. One traveler in Vietnam told me that she could hear the sound of artillery at night in Phnom Penh. I don't hear any artillery, but I can hear the sound of somebody tapping a bamboo bell (why?) several blocks away. It's that quiet. (Though I did also hear what may have been distant gunshots, just a couple.)

As I stand here in the tropical heat, looking at that dark empty street below, soldiers wandering by, candlelight flickering in the windows of blocky old buildings, the smell of rain and mildew and incense, I think about what occurred here in Cambodia, what is occurring here, and where I am, and the gravity of it all. Twenty five years of war. Three million killed under the Khmer Rouge. The forced evacuation of the cities, Phnom Penh, here. War stretching from the 1960s till now. I find myself fascinated with the idea and the feeling of being here in this 'strange and dangerous' place, in the midst of history still unfolding. Tonight at least, it's a rush just standing here watching a dark empty street. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Internet Freedom in Cambodia - A Timeline

The following is a timeline of the development of Internet restrictions/censorship in Cambodia and is meant to serve as a resource for those studying the issue. Also included is some general Cambodia Internet history and milestones in order to provide background and context. I have tried to supply (functioning) links to source articles to facilitate research and provide additional information.

While this timeline traces the development of Internet censorship in Cambodia, in fact, Cambodia has a relatively good record on Internet freedom, far from perfect, but also far from an 'enemy of Internet' like some of her neighbors. It can even be said that Cambodia has some of the freest Internet in the region. Still, over the last three years, that free space has slowly been shrinking, some 'political' websites have been blocked and the government has repeatedly expressed the desire to enact some sort of Internet law or official regulation. It's an issue to watch, especially as we move into a election year when freedom of speech and media access will likely become hotter topics than they already are.*

Notes: I am not a tech guy so I may have used some technical vocabulary imprecisely. Also I realize some of the quoted figures are a matter of debate (e.g. Internet penetration in Cambodia.) I tried to avoid linking to KI Media or Khmerization except when that was the only source I could find for old articles. Both are difficult to use in Cambodia and I don't particularly like KI. If you find an expired link, try Googling the title for other sources. Unfortunately most Cambodia Daily articles are not available online. Lastly, the recent CCHR report, 'New Media and the Promotion of Human Rights in Cambodia,' is an excellent resource, providing a concise and well referenced history of Internet restrictions in Cambodia.

The Beginning of Internet in Cambodia

Early 90s. After more than two decades of war an isolation, Cambodia opens to the world with the UN sponsored elections of 1993. Low level war with the Khmer Rouge continues. The country, including the capital city Phnom Penh, lack many basic services. E-mail and the World Wide Web are relatively new even in the west and Cambodia has never had access. This changed in 1994 with Cambodia's first e-mail access and much more concretely in 1997 when Cambodia established its first direct internet connection. For the first several years of  Internet in Cambodia, it was very slow and expensive, Internet penetration was very low and content regulation, or even the suggestion of it, was non-existent. The following are just a few of the highlights to provide background and context. 

Despite Cambodia’s lack of direct Internet access, Norbert Klein offers Cambodia’s first public e-mail service though Open Forum for Cambodia, connecting to a modem outside Cambodia by long-distance telephone from Phnom Penh . Price, US$5/minute
The Evolution of Internet, The Phnom Penh Post  
The Influence of the Internet on Cambodia Khmer Internet: A Case Study 

The effort to bring Internet to Cambodia gains steam. The government conducts talks and negotiations with several telecommunications providers.
Internet Link May Finally Connect Cambodia to the World, The Cambodia Daily, February 12, 1996  
Internet May Soon Come to Cambodia, But at What Price?, The Cambodia Daily, March 18, 1996
Japanese Initiative May Wire Phnom Penh for Free Internet, The Cambodia Daily, June 10, 1996 

Early 1997
A partnership is formed between the Canada’s International Development Research Center (IDRC,) facilitated by Bill Herod, and the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication’s (MPTC) ISP known as Camnet. Through this partnership, plans are finalized for Cambodia to open its first direct Internet connection.  
Cambodia Poised to Link Up to Internet, Deutsche Presse Agentur (pre-edit) April 1997  
Khmer Internet: A Case Study

May 7,  1997
Cambodia is connected. The first direct 24/7 Internet connection is opened by Camnet – a 64kbps line with Singapore.  
Internet Provider Now On-Line, The Cambodia Daily, May 7, 1997  

June 1, 1997
Australia’s Telstra launches Telstra Bigpond Cambodia, Cambodia’s first commercial ISP. Price, US$0.15/kb (~150 characters) (Several year later Cogitel Ltd. acquires Telstra Bigpond and changes the name to Online [now under AZ Communications Co., Ltd,] which is still in operation today. - August 2012.)

Late 1997-1998
Bill Herod is instrumental in establishing Licee Khmer and later KIDS (Khmer Internet Development Services,) offering public internet and website services.

Internet penetration is estimated at 1,957.
UN Data

Internet cafes and shops proliferate in Phnom Penh. There is internet access in many Cambodian cities, though often limited to one or two internet/phone shops in non-tourist cities.

Internet penetration is estimated at 5,853.  
UN Data

June 2001
Internet penetration is estimated at 8000 users.
Khmer Internet: A Case Study
Internet penetration is estimated at 9,738.
UN Data

Internet penetration is estimated at 29,157.
UN Data

Early 2003
A partnership between Asia Foundation, (with funds from USAID and Microsoft) establishes a network of Community Information Centers (CIC) with public Internet access and training in 22 provinces.

Internet penetration is estimated at 33,937.  
UN Data

Internet penetration is estimated at 39,639.
UN Data

January 2005
The first Khmer Unicode is released allowing Khmer script to be used and displayed on Internet.

Internet penetration is estimated at 42,386.  
UN Data

Prelude- Setting the stage
In the mid-late '00s internet penetration continued to rise, the websites that would later be banned were first established and the Cambodian government expressed its first concerns about internet content and a desire to limit it. These first concerns, at least those stated, were over "pornography and debauchery." Unlike later efforts to control internet, this plan wasn't to block websites but to limit internet access by banning 3G.

July 2005
KI Media (Khmer Intelligence) website is launched, leans strongly anti-ruling party and is highly critical of the RGC and government officials. The website is based outside Cambodia.

June 2006
Expressing concerns regarding pornography and debauchery on Internet and citing the need to protect the morality of the country, the Prime Minister announces a 10-year ban on 3G. The announcement to ban 3G is met with shock, incredulity and bemusement by the industry. Within days the government backpedals and alters the ban to 3G video streaming only.
Cambodia Ban on 3G Astounds Phone Industry  
Cambodia Bans 3G Mobile Services  
Porn fear sparks Cambodia 3G ban 

Internet penetration is estimated at 63,303.  
UN Data

Internet penetration is estimated at 70,000 users.
Cambodia Artists take on Internet Censorship
Internet penetration is estimated at 66,982.
UN Data

October 11, 2007
Khmerization website is launched, leans strongly anti-ruling party and is highly critical of the RGC. The website is based outside Cambodia.  
Why I Created This Blog?

2008 goes online, displaying Rick Lor's controversial "sexy apsara" art. The website is based outside of Cambodia.

Internet penetration is estimated at 70,495.
UN Data

First Blocked Website – Art

Citing the dignity of women and the protection of Khmer culture, the Cambodian government calls for the first website ban - with its R-rated 'sexy apsara' art. Both the concern and the request for the ban by the government are clearly and publicly stated. Some bloggers and opposition party politicians express opposition, but public opposition to the ban seems weak. Many seem persuaded by the threat to culture and dignity with even some prominent artists and an HR advocate voicing support for the ban. The ban is requested by the government, enacted by the ISPs (not by government controlled filtering/blocking,) stays in place for a good long while, and in the future is repeatedly cited as a precedent in other moves to regulate internet and/or its content. The government speaks for the first time of drafting an Internet law aimed at controlling content. A week after is blocked, a Global Witness report is also blocked.

Early December 2008
The Minister of Women’s Affairs complains of offensive images on the website, which displays the art of Cambodian-American artist Rick Lor, known as Reahu. Reahu's art includes images of topless Khmer women in traditional Cambodian clothing and settings and of scantily clad Khmer Rouge soldiers.
‘Owner of Controversial Website Claims Gov’t Blocked Access’, The Cambodia Daily, February 2, 2009

December 18,  2008
Cambodian government criticisms come into focus and plans for the country’s first website ban are put into motion. Citing potential negative effects on Cambodian culture and danger to the dignity of Cambodian women, the Ministry of Women's Affairs issues a statement that the Ministry is preparing to block access to 

The Ministry of Women's Affairs claims that 70%-80% of Cambodian women offended by such images.

Lending some weight to the Ministry’s claim of popular support, a large number of comments left on the site support the government’s plan for a ban. Somewhat surprisingly, some prominent Cambodian artists also express support for the ban as does a the Deputy Director of Communication and Advocacy of LICAHDO, a prominent Cambodian human rights organization, arguing that should be blocked "…because it appealed too much to young Cambodians."
Gov’t officials criticized the half-naked Apsara dancers on Website  
Cambodia: Internet censorship targets artists

December 19, 2008
Reahu defends his art, posting on his website:
I believe in constructive criticisms! But lately, I’ve received many unwanted complaints regarding some of my works disgraced the Khmer culture. Judging from the complaints, I wonder how we as Khmer will be able to make it in the 21st Century. Please be open-minded, you must be able to see beyond the four walls surrounding your hut. So please! My prohook eating brothers and sisters this is art, one mans point of view captured on canvas: An admiration of Apsaras as celestial beings. If this brings down the Khmer culture, then your Khmer culture is still under the Khmer Rouge. So, I take the pleasure of deleting them. A good Khmer Rouge is a naked one."
What People Care About  
Gov’t officials criticized the half-naked Apsara dancers on Website  
Khmer Blue has Purists Seeing Red  
Controversial artist fights back, The Phnom Penh Post

January 7, 2009
Cambodian newspapers report that the Ministry of Information has announced plans to draft law to regulate publications on the internet. A government spokesman cites the website of as prompting the need for new regulation. The reports  cites “advances of new technologies” and the need to “protect the respect of tradition and morality.”

Part of the new rules include the requirement for ISP providers to acquire a license not only from the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications (MPTC) but also the Ministry of Information, which could presumably require them to follow media law.
The Ministry of Information Has the Intention to Regulate Publications on the Internet
Cambodia drafts law to regulate internet strictly

January 8, 2009
The Minister of Information denies that the new law will regulate internet or content. he states that the media law is directed primarily at radio, TV and print media, not at the Internet   

Late January 2009
Internet users report access to is blocked by several domestic ISP providers.

February 2, 2009
Artist Reahu writes on his website that his website has been blocked by several ISPs in Cambodia
Dear Fans and Supporters, The Cambodian government had issue a note of blockage to many internet providers in Cambodia to block this website from the local people. If this kind of basic freedom is deny God knows what will happen next. Anyway, there are approximately 6 ISPs in Cambodia, some had taken the privilege to block the site from Cambodia, but others did not due to the lack of technological know how or it's too costly.

There are ways around this if you are accessing this site from Cambodia. Do not use Internet Explorer, instead use Mozilla Fire Fox. Meanwhile, I'm trying to get my hosting provider to change the IP address. Or any of you know another way, so that we can provide our Khmer people equal access.

May Buddha bless those in charge of the country so they can see that the glass isn't always half empty.
A Minister of the MPTC confirms that a letter requesting the block was sent to the internet providers, but also claimss he did not know what effect the letter may have had. owner claims his website ordered blocked in Cambodia Censorship: Thousands of Crude Porn Sites Accessible on Internet – One Khmer Artist Blocked
Owner of Controversial Website Claims Gov’t Blocked Access’, The Cambodia Daily, February 2, 2009

February  9, 2009
A second important internet block is put in place.

On January 5 Global Witness releases its report ‘Country for Sale,’ which comes under immediate heavy criticism by the RGC. On January 9 one ISP in Cambodia (AngkorNet) blocks access to the Global Witness website. The ISP confirms that the site has been blocked but declines to comment further. The block seems to be short lived. (A similar Global Witness report in 2007 (i.e. 'Cambodia's Family Trees') was also banned by the RGC, but there was no mention or effect on internet.)
NGO website barred in Cambodia for releasing scathing report

February 2009
Images of Reahu’s art begin to appear on several other websites and blogs, in large part due to news of the controversy surrounding the ban on in Cambodia.

March 3, 2009
A secretary of state for the Ministry of Women's Affairs confirms that her office cooperated with the MPTC to have the website blocked as well as "some other websites that show sexy pictures ... such as and… Apsara images like those in the reahu website have a bad effect on our culture. The Aspara is supposed to show women as being gentle, not looking very sexy."
Govt moves raise censorship fears, The Phnom Penh Post

After the block
The block on Reahu’s site lasted at least months, perhaps longer. I checked a few times in the subsequent months but didn’t follow up after that. The block is no longer in place (August 2012.) I am not sure when it was lifted.

July 2009
Citing security concerns, the MPTC tells local ISPs to bar VoIP (Voice-over Internet Protocol) for domestic calling. VoIP is used for services such as Skype. According to government spokesmen the ban is not intended to affect international VoIP. To date (2012), nothing seems to have come of it.
Gov't Cites Security in Local VoIP Ban 

Internet subscribers is estimated at 29,589. 
The Phnom Penh Post

Plans for a state-run Internet hub
The government contemplates formalizing and expanding Internet censorship. The government proposes the formation of a 'morality committee' that would review websites for suitability and ban them as necessary. Government spokesmen suggest that all internet traffic would be funneled through a single state-run hub in order to facilitate controlling content. The plan is eventually dropped, but not necessarily abandoned.

Internet penetration is estimated at 74,083.  
UN Data

October 2009
The MPTC issues a prakas instructing all ISPs to connect to Telecom Cambodia - stipulating “inter‐network connection between all telecommunication operators shall be through a central center of Cambodian Telecommunication”.
State-run Web hub would filter sites, The Phnom Penh Post

February 3, 2010
The undersecretary of the MPTC announces plans to block websites that conflict with national values. An undersecretary of state at MPTC announced plans hold regular ‘morality committee’ meetings to review websites and consider blocking offending sites. The committee would include representatives of the MPTC, Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Women’s Affairs as well as local ISPs.

During the annual conference of the National Committee for Upholding Cambodian Social Morality, Women’s and Khmer Family Value the under secretary stated that “As young Cambodians have access to such technologies, they indulge and commit wrongdoings that deviate from our customs and traditions by accessing and replicating erotic and pornographic pictures over Internet sites.” She also expresses concerns about "modern information technologies" and cited the blocking of the website last year.
Cambodian govt panel to target racy images, The Phnom Penh Post 

February 23, 2010
Telcom Cambodia indicates government plans to have all ISPs’ web traffic funneled through a single, state-run Internet hub – a ‘Domestic Internet Exchange’ managed by Telecom Cambodia. Telecom Cambodia officials state that it is for the purpose of controlling content and block access to sites deemed “inappropriate.” A Telecom Cambodia official states, “If any website attacks the government or any website displays inappropriate images or pornography, or it’s against the principle of the government, we can block all of them.”

In contrast to the MPTC announcement, the Ministry of Information states there is no plan to filter content.
State-run Web hub would filter sites, The Phnom Penh Post 
Cambodian govt panel to target racy images, The Phnom Penh Post 

Feb 26, 2010
The Ministries of Information and MPTC continue to express differences about the degree to which internet content would be filtered by the new central exchange, if at all. The MPTC states that internet would be monitored for "inappropriate content" and blocked as necessary. The Ministry of Information spokesmen repeats that there is no plan to block or filter internet and that it is inappropriate to do so.

April 12, 2010
The MPTC announces that it has dropped plans to funnel web traffic through Telecom Cambodia.
Plans for Internet Monopoly Shelved
Govt axes Internet monopoly plan, The Phnom Penh Post

Interlude – New Penal Code 
A new penal code is enacted, sections of which many observers warn may impact free speech. Shortly thereafter a UN staffer is arrested under the new law for distributing 'seditious' materials he got off of the KI Media website. He is quickly convicted and jailed under the new code, though not under any internet law. One month later KI Media will be blocked by the ISPs at the government's request.

December 1, 2010
Cambodia enacts new penal code which includes several articles which may impact on free speech
Concern Over Liberties as New Penal Code Is Enacted
New Cambodian laws may suppress free speech: rights groups  
New Penal Code a Setback for Freedom of Expression Issues
Relevant provisions in the draft Penal Code that may affect the free speech

December 16, 2010
A high ranking government official complains about KI Media and its attacks on government officials. He ask that it be blocked, stating, “I asked the government to shut down this website on 31 December, soon.”
The government to shut down KI-Media website at the end of December (RFA)

December 17, 2010
Local UN staffer is arrested for disseminating 'anti-government' material that he got from the KI Media website.
UN staffer jailed for ‘anti-government’ materials, The Phnom Penh Post

December 19, 2010
The UN staffer is tried and jailed for disseminating 'anti-government' material he garnered from the KI Media website. He is convicted under the 'Incitement' section of the new penal code.
Cambodia: New Penal Code Undercuts Free Speech 

Internet subscribers is estimated at 173,675.
The Phnom Penh Post

Internet penetration is estimated at 178,142.
UN Data

The Blogspot Fiasco: Goodbye KI

Cambodia stumbles into the world of political Internet censorship, quietly blocking politically related sites (including KI Media and Khmerization) with all the subtlety of a three-legged elephant stumbling through the living room. Unlike the block, neither the government nor the ISPs want to own this one, both initially offering confused explanations and denials. Shortly thereafter the media (The Phnom Penh Post and The Cambodia Daily) acquire documents that show what probably happened was that the government made a strong request to block the websites and most ISPs accommodated, if a rather clumsily. Again, the government cited pornography, protection of Khmer tradition and morality, as well as Internet that "affects government." The block holds firmly to this day (August 2012.)

Early January 19, 2011
In the morning hours rumors and report circulate on Twitter and internet discussion forums of some sort of internet block in Phnom Penh. Some websites cannot be accessed on some ISPs, including all of Blogspot, a popular blogging platform hosting thousands of blogs including the controversial KI Media.

The ISPs give conflicting stories. Some say that there is a technical problem and that they are working on it. One ISP posts a notice that the website has been banned by order of the Ministry of Interior. ISP Ezecom phone representatives tell customers that the websites have been blocked by order the government, stating "the Ministry of the Interior has requested that all ISPs block all blogger sites."

The MPTC denies any official directive to block websites.
Cambodia blocks blogspot  
‘Blogging Site Blockage Sparks Censorship Worries,’ The Cambodia Daily, January 20, 2011

Late January 19, 2011
Denials all around. The ISPs (that comment) deny that they received a directive from the government. The MPTC denies issuing a directive. The Ministry of Information denies knowledge of issuing directive.
Cambodia blocks blogspot

January 20, 2011
Blogspot is accessible through most ISPs again. (All but Metfone according to the CCHR Report) Ezecom sends a notice to its customers in response to press reports, denying it received a directive from the government to restrict access to any website. “As the CEO I can say, we have received no directive, nor did we block access to any websites on our service.”

The Minister of Information states that he is unaware of any order to block access to the site. “Until now I am still in the dark about who made the order. My ministry never issued such an order.”
ISP denies blocking blogsite, The Phnom Penh Post  
The curious case of the banning that wasn’t 
‘Internet Firms Deny Gov’t Silenced Blogs,’ The Cambodia Daily, January 11, 2011

January 22, 2011
Some Internet users report that KI Media is inaccessible. Other Blogspot sites are still accessible on most ISPs.

January 24, 2011
KI Media sets up a ‘mirror site’ on WordPress, another blogging service.

Late January 25, 2011
Government officials continue to deny knowledge of an official block or order to block. ISPs continue to give conflicting stories.

The block seems inconsistent. Many users report Blogspot available. Some users report the KI Media is available sporadically.

‘Mystery Continues to Surround Opposition Site,’ The Cambodia Daily, January 25, 2011

February 2, 2011
The MPTC issues a draft prakas providing for the registration of internet exchange points. The draft parkas includes several stipulations, including the requirement that that internet exchange points follow the rules and regulations of Cambodia, including those related to pornography.

Early February
By the end of the first week of February there are increased reports from Internet users on different ISPs that they are consistently unable to access KI Media.

February 10, 2011
On February 15 the Phnom Penh Post acquires the minutes from a meeting between the MPTC and the ISP representatives that took place today, February 10. The Post quotes: “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…He suggested that all operators help to cooperate and report on time so that the Ministry is able to offer its report to the government.”
Ministry denies blocking website, The Phnom Penh Post 

February 14, 2011
Internet users report KI media inaccessible on several ISPs. Users trying to access KI Media through WiCam get a message stating that the site had been “blocked as ordered by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications of Cambodia.” The Post reports that a WiCam employe told them “the ministry sent an email to the company several weeks ago ordering them to block access to the site because it 'impacts the government.’” Other ISPs either refuse comment or deny receiving any directive.

The MPTC continues to deny issuing “any order” to block the site.
Opposition site blocked, The Phnom Penh Post 
‘Government Continues to Deny It Blocked Blog,’ The Cambodia Daily, February 16, 2011

February 15, 2011
KI Media, Khmerization and political cartoonist Sacrava websites all remain unavailable. From the Phnom Penh Post: “Internet users have reported to The Post that they were unable to access the website KI-Media through four ISPs: Online, WiCam, Metfone, and Ezecom. Two other sites, Khmerization and Sacrava, which carry content that overlaps with KI-Media, could not be accessed through Ezecom.”
Ministry denies blocking website, The Phnom Penh Post

Wicam takes down message. The MPTC denies ordering a block.

The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) condemns the internet block.:
By extending its censorship to the internet, the government is likely to create further discontent amongst the people. It is only by joining the online dialogue and by responding to criticisms with reasoned argument that the government can hope to avoid the criticisms it seems so intent on suppressing.
February 16, 2011
The Phnom Penh Post obtains a copy of an email from the MPTC to 10 local ISPs thanking them for their efforts to block several websites. The e-mail stated, “I am writing to extend my appreciation to you all for your cooperation with MPTC” and that it was sent to Ezecom, Metfone, Citylink, Digi, AngkorNet, WiCam, Telecom Cambodia, Camnet, Online and Camintel. The ISPs continued to either decline comment or deny knowledge of any email or memo.  
Ministry denies blocking website, The Phnom Penh Post Tangled Web Reveled, The Phnom Penh Post 
KI-Media ban confusion, The Phnom Penh Post

LICAHDO condemns the blocking KI Media and other websites.  
LICHADO issues a condemnation of blocking websites 

February 18, 2011
The Cambodia Daily reports it has copies of emails from the government dated Feb 9 and Feb 11 strongly requesting that ISPs block certain website. Government spokesman soften their denials, now saying that there was no official censorship policy but that ISP providers were free to decide to censor their own content. The email was sent to several people by name including the CEO of Ezecom.

In what was perhaps the most memorable quote of the whole affair, when a Cambodia Daily reporter phoned the CEO of Ezecom for a comment about the government emails, he snapped "can't hear you" and hung up the phone.

One ISP states that it has not blocked anything but would if formally asked.

‘E-Mail Points to Collusion in Gov’t Censorship’ The Cambodia Daily, February 18, 2011

Interlude - After KI
Over the following weeks the blocked websites gradually disappear from the press, appearing only in the occasional NGO report. But the block itself stayed firmly in place and slowly became part of the background. KI Media and Khmerization ISPs have remained consistently unavailable through most ISPs to this day (August 2012.) ISPs continue to deny knowledge or evade the question when asked. Those who want access to the blocked websites either use a proxy server or an ISP such as Mobitel that does not block sites.

June 2011
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) releases a report calling for greater Internet freedom in Cambodia.
 Internet Censorship: The Ongoing Crackdown on Freedom of Expression in Cambodia

January 2012
Internet penetration doubles in one year and is estimated at 449,160 users at the end of 2011.  
Cambodia's Internet penetration more than doubles

Pending Internet Law
Though the exact figure is a matter of debate, Internet penetration in Cambodia is increasing rapidly and at an accelerating pace. Facebook subscribers now number near a half-million. The Commune Elections have just passed at the National Elections are now less than a year away. After months absent from the press, Internet in Cambodia makes news again with the government's announcement of plans to enact an Internet law, purportedly to prevent the spread of dangerous 'false information.' Nothing has come of it yet (as of Aug 15.)

May 24, 2012
The Phnom Penh Post reports that the RGC is once again drafting and planning to enact a new Internet law. Noting 'mushrooming modern technologies' and citing a recent SMS-spread false rumor of a clash between political demonstrators in Phnom Penh, a government spokesman stated, “We need to prevent any ill-willed people or bad mood people from spreading false information, groundless information that could tend to mislead the public and affect national security or our society. We need to control this.”
The ‘ill-willed’ spark cyber law: officials, The Phnom Penh Post
The ‘ill-willed’ spark cyber law: officials, The Phnom Penh Post
Cambodia Law Blog: Internet Speech Law in the Works: Can you Handle the Truth?

June 2012
A blogger posts a rough translation of a legal circular issued by the Ministry of Interior and MPTC in February 2012 outlining new rules for telecommunications providers and users, including Internet, though this is presumably not the expected ‘Internet law’ reported last month. For a complete copy of the circular see: Cambodia’s Default Internet Law – Draft Translation

July 2012
CCHR releases new report “exploring the extent to which new media, namely mobile phones and the internet, are used in Cambodia, and in particular how they are used to promote and protect human rights,” including a detailed history of Internet censorship in Cambodia.
New Media and the Promotion of Human Rights in Cambodia

First week of August 2012
False rumors of the death of Chea Sim spread from Facebook. The rumor is strongly denied by government spokesmen and Chea Sim makes an appearance, putting an end to it. A Council of Ministers spokesman is quoted as saying, “We’re living in the free world, every one has full responsibility, people should not create rumors to jeopardize the social order. Those people abuse their freedom of expression.”
The Phnom Penh Post: Senate President Chea Sim's health 'no problem'  

* Edit: Several typos corrected and this brief intro paragraph (which was somehow omitted in the original upload) inserted (August 17, 11:45PM.) 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Cambodia: Flooding 2012 (not...yet)

Getting lots of hits on my 2011 flooding posts and starting to get e-mails from travelers asking about current flooding – ‘Is there flooding in Cambodia?’ ‘Is Phnom Penh flooded?’ ‘Will there be flooding this year?’The disastrous 2011 floods in Cambodia and Thailand have left many wondering if there will be a repeat performance this year.

Is there flooding in Cambodia ? In short, no, there is no flooding or threat of imminent flooding in Cambodia. In fact, so far this year the monsoon rains have been rather sparse and the rivers are at normal, even slightly below normal levels. The river level at the Phnom Penh Port is currently at 6 meters, well below even warning level and on the low side of normal for mid-August.

Phnom Penh riverfront, August 10, 2012. Water level 3.5 meters below warning level and 5 meters below flood level.

Water level chart for the Phnom Penh Port on the Tonle Sap River, August 12, 2012. Note that the current observed water level is below previous flood years, (though that could certainly change.) MRC website.

Will there be floods this year? Depends on what is meant by ‘floods.’

Parts of Cambodia flood every year. During the monsoon season (June-November) the great Tonle Sap Lake in the center of the country ordinarily swells to cover as much as 5 times its dry season surface area, flooding vast mangrove forests and beyond. Villages along the lake build their houses on 9 meter stilts to stay above the water. This flooding is part of a normal annual cycle that helps replenish the land and irrigate the rice fields. The flood of 2011 was different. The water was much deeper, the flood area more extensive and the duration of the flooding much longer than a normal year. The rivers repeatedly crested their banks in some cities such as Siem Reap (but not Phnom Penh,) flooding the cities for days, even weeks at a time.

Tonle Sap Lake and floodplain.

There will also be a certain amount of flooding in Phnom Penh this year, as there is every year, every rainy season, after heavy downpours. After a typical afternoon monsoon, certain streets and parts of town will flood ankle to knee deep on average and then will drain off within a couple/few hours of the end of the storm. It’s been that way in Phnom Penh for the 19 years that I have been here and is as predictable as clockwork. Someday the city may sort out its drainage problems, but until then, brief flooding with heavy rains is the norm and to be expected.

Street flooding in Phnom Penh (Street 178), May 8, 2012. This flooding drained off within a couple of hours.

Street flooding in Phnom Penh (Sothearos Blvd at the corner of Street 184), May 8, 2012. This flooding drained off within a couple of hours.

But if asking ‘will there be destructive floods of the same sort as 2011, perhaps even in Phnom Penh’ the answer is 'nobody knows.'

While there are several factors, the extent of this year’s flooding will depend largely on the amount of rain Cambodia and the countries along the Mekong River receive in the coming months, which is an unknown. There have been some long term forecasts for the region but such predictions are tentative at best.

That said, after last year’s disaster, people in Cambodia are understandably a bit on the sensitive side regarding the possibility of flooding this year. There is something of an air of anticipation.

Some locals (including some of the Khmer and Vietnamese I work with) predict that there will be severe flooding again this year, noting with ominous tone that 2012 is the Year of the Dragon, specifically a Water Dragon, which is associated with rain and flood.. They also point out that the last big flood prior to 2011, and the last time the river in Phnom Penh crested its banks and flooded the city, was in 2000, also a Year of the Dragon, suggesting that flooding will follow the same cycle.

And the media has been playing it up a bit as well, looking for new angles (e.g. climate change and landgrabbing,) intermittently rehashing the story and generating more flood talk. Three weeks ago a local paper managed to get a foreboding but dubious quote from a UN guy, “The Tonle Sap lake is already filled to the brim, and satellite pictures indicate that we are actually preparing for [another] flooding disaster.” (Really? Where is “the brim” of the Tonle Sap Lake? Is it already filled to its maximum extent, 2 months early? If accurate, that should have been a story in itself.)

Offering a more prudent assessment, the National Committee for Disaster Management’s Pey Sopheap said “for the estimation, we cannot say anything” regarding the potential for flooding this year. We will have to wait and see.

A few notes on flood watching: Severe flooding, if there is any, tends to start later in the season, often in September/October (see river level chart above)... Last year the river level in many places rose quite quickly, often in a matter of days. In Phnom Penh the Tonle Sap rose 2 meters in less than a week... Expect brief flooding (1-4 hours) after heavy rains in Phnom Penh and other cities and also occasional brief flooding over parts of the National Roads. This happens every year. Do not confuse reports of rain-related street flooding with the sort of disastrous flooding that occurred in 2011... The Mekong River Commission online daily river level reports are an excellent resource... Last year Twitter was also an good source of on-the-spot flood reports... The monsoon season is, IMO, the best time of year to visit Cambodia - the Angkor ruins are at their most picturesque, the countryside is alive with activity, the rice paddies are full and green, the tourists are at their thinnest...


Mekong River Commission, river levels, Southeast Asia
Mekong River Commission, river levels, Cambodia page
Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology - Flood Bulletin (Khmer)
Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology - Flood Warnings (Khmer)
Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology - Hydrographs

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ramayana Murals

Ramayana mural, gallery, Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The 'Silver Pagoda' sits next to the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. It is home to the 'Emerald Buddha' and is the pagoda where the King meets with monks and some Royal ceremonies are performed. The interior of the pagoda compound walls are covered with murals depicting stories from the Reamker, i.e. the Khmer version of the classic Indian epic the Ramayana. The murals stand over 3 and a half meters tall and stretch around 604 meters of wall. They were painted in 1903-1904 by a team of students working under the direction of artist Vichitre Chea and architect Oknha Tep Nimit Thneak. The murals are only partially protected from the elements by open cloisters that serve as galleries and have long shown signs of weathering and water damaged.

Yesterday The Cambodia Daily reported that a restoration project currently being conducted on the murals may actually be threatening their existence. ('Restoration Risks Destroying Palace Murals' The Cambodia Daily, August 9, 2012) According to the Daily, UNESCO sent a letter to the Palace in June expressing concerns about the restoration technique. Apparently concrete is being applied to the water damaged lower section which experts say will force moisture upward into the material underlying the murals, possibly destroying them entirely. According to the Daily, as of yesterday the restoration project continues unchanged and unabated.

I haven't been out to see the Ramayana frescoes in a couple of years and haven't seen the reported restoration project, but I have visited the frescoes many times over the years, taking lots of photos in the process. Most of the following photos were taken before 2009. This is what is under threat:

Ramayana mural, Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Ramayana mural, men talking, Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Ramayana mural, birds with dragon fly, Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Ramayana mural, houses, Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Ramayana mural, battle scene, Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Ramayana mural, Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Ramayana mural, 3 soldiers, Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Ramayana mural, Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Ramayana mural, women sitting, Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Ramayana mural, Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Ramayana mural, men sitting, Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Ramayana mural, Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Ramayana mural, women, Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Ramayana mural, Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh, Cambodia