REEDOM ON THE
Unfortunately, hate groups and manipulative photos and messages are also common on Facebook,
and Burmese internet users spread racially-charged comments across social media platforms
throughout the coverage period.
Several promoted violence, including a self-designated
“beheading gang” that targeted Muslims on Facebook, which the platform later removed from the
The hatred expressed online and in government statements in the media proved mutually
In 2012, religious riots broke out in western Arakan state sparked by state and
private media reports that treated the rape and murder of a local woman as a racially-motivated
and contrasted the Arakan Buddhist victim with her allegedly Muslim attackers.
Propaganda photos and posts from both sides of the conflict circulated on the internet.
official from the president’s office framed the issue as a matter of national security on his personal
Facebook page and urged people to rally behind the armed forces.
Since the riots took place in a
remote area challenging for journalists to reach, these Facebook updates were disproportionately
influential in media reports.
The anti-Rohingya rhetoric sparked counter-protests overseas,
including one coordinated by hacktivist group Anonymous, which sent 24,000 messages per hour
with the hashtag #RohingyaNOW one day in March 2013.
Other online activism was more positive. In 2012, villagers, Buddhist monks, and citizen journalists
united on Facebook to mobilize against a copper mine in the central Letpaudaung hills, run by the
military-owned conglomerate Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and China’s Wanbao
Mining Limited, a subsidiary of the arms manufacturer NORINCO. Initially, politicians and
traditional media largely ignored the protesters, who called for a halt to the project citing
environmental, social and health concerns. However, on November 29, 2012, riot police raided six
protest camps at the mine, detained several dozen protesters, and injured at least 100 Buddhist
monks and villagers, many of whom incurred severe burns. Activists used Facebook extensively to
post photos and information about the crackdown, triggering an outcry from the media and the
political opposition. Recognition, however, was the only substantive outcome of the action.
President Thein Sein appointed Aung San Suu Kyi to chair an Investigation Commission. However,
the Commission recommended that the mining project go ahead in March 2013.
Sait Latt, “Intolerance, Islam and the Internet in Burma today,” New Mandala, June 10, 2012,
Min Zin, “Why Sectarian Conflict in Burma is Bad for Democracy,” Transitions (blog), Foreign Policy, June 13, 2012,
New Light of Myanmar, a state newspaper, printed a government statement that included the racial epithet kalar, a
derogatory term for foreigners of Indian appearance, when referring to the Muslim victims of mob violence. It corrected the
reference to “Islamic residents” the following day, but did not apologize. See, Hanna Hindstrom, “State Media Issues Correction
After Publishing Racial Slur,” Democratic Voice of Burma, June 6, 2012, http://www.dvb.no/news/state‐media‐issues‐
“Burma’s Irresponsible Media,” Irrawaddy, July 11, 2012, http://www.irrawaddy.org/archives/8862.
On June 3, 10 Muslims were killed in the same region in apparent retaliation for the murder of the Buddhist girl.
“Media Freedom Still Murky in Myanmar Despite Progress,” Global Voices, February 21, 2013,
Min Zin, “Why Sectarian Conflict in Burma is Bad for Democracy.”
Hmuu Zaw’s Facebook page, accessed on August 2013, https://www.facebook.com/hmuu.zaw.
“Anonymous Taught Twitter About the Rohingya Genocide,” Vice, March 26, 2013, http://www.vice.com/read/anonymous‐
Kyaw Phyo Tha, “Wanbao Welcomes Inquiry Commission’s Verdict,” Irrawaddy, March 13, 2013,
REEDOM ON THE
Besides employing online tools for social and political mobilization, users have organized
gatherings, with government permission, to share general ICT-related knowledge. In January 2013,
Burma’s fourth BarCamp—a user-generated conference about technology and the internet—was
held in Rangoon with over 6,000 participants.
BarCamp meetings were also held in cities like
Mandalay and Bassein.
Given Burma’s appalling history of violating user rights, late 2012 and early 2013 were
comparatively neutral periods as citizens awaited the results of sluggish legislative reforms. Users
remain at risk of prosecution and imprisonment under the repressive laws enacted by the junta, and
in a troubling May 2013 analysis, Human Rights Watch noted that an early draft of the
telecommunications law retained the Electronic Transactions Law’s repressive section 33 without
change. Bloggers are not immune from legal threats, and a parliamentary committee wasted
valuable time and resources trying to identify an anonymous blogger who had criticized their
conflict with a constitutional court. Yet no new arrests were reported, and the only ICT-related
imprisonments on record involve former officials accused of leaking secrets.
The current constitution, drafted by the military-led government and approved in a flawed 2008
referendum, does not guarantee internet freedom. It simply states that every citizen may exercise
the right to “express and publish their convictions and opinions,” but only if these are “not contrary
to the laws enacted for Union [of Myanmar] security, prevalence of law and order, community
peace and tranquility or public order and morality.”
Three other laws govern ICTs: the 1996
Computer Science Development Law, the 2002 Wide Area Network Order, and the 2004
Electronic Transactions Law (ETL).
Of the three, the ETL is the most notorious and frequently
used. Under section 33, internet users face prison terms of 7 to 15 years and possible fines for “any
act detrimental to” state security, law and order, community peace and tranquility, national
solidarity, the national economy, or national culture—including “receiving or sending” related
In 2011, state-run media warned that the ETL could apply to defamatory statements
made on Facebook.
Draft laws to reform this legislative framework were expected to pass in 2013,
but their status at
the end of the coverage period remained unclear. Traditional media censorship was still authorized
in theory by the Printers and Publishers Registration Act of 1962, even though the board that
“BurmaCamp Rangoon: Over 6,000 Participants” (in Burmese), Myanmar Times, January 23, 2013,
“Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (2008) – English,” available Online Burma/Myanmar Library,
“List of Burma/Myanmar laws 1988‐2004 (by date),” available Online Burma/Myanmar Library,
“Electronic Transactions Law, State Peace and Development Council Law No. 5/2004,” available United Nations Public
Administration Network, http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/un‐dpadm/unpan041197.pdf.
Francis Wade, “Prison Threat for Facebook ‘Defamers’,” Democratic Voice of Burma, August 3, 2011,
Interview with a senior government advisor, January 2013.
REEDOM ON THE
enforced it was dismantled. Though new legislation that would repeal this law was passed in the
lower house of parliament in July 2013, it stalled in the upper house. Critics point out it retains
vaguely worded content controls and potentially punitive licensing for news outlets,
many lawmakers believed these had been removed following consultations with journalists.
Similarly, the draft telecommunications law, which corresponds most closely to the ETL,
reproduced that law’s repressive section 33 verbatim, according to a review of one draft by Human
Officials told Human Rights Watch that many repressive measures were missing
from a subsequent draft, but this has not been made public.
While potential penalties for ICT use still exist, no arrests were reported during the coverage
period. At least three former military or government officials remain imprisoned after they were
sentenced in early 2010 for leaking sensitive information about junta activities to overseas groups
via the internet.
Dozens of political prisoners formerly jailed for electronic activities remain free
since they were released en masse in 2011. In general, however, these releases came with a
condition that reoffenders will receive a new sentence in addition to previously unfinished
Although limits on content have loosened, content producers continue to face legal investigations
for publishing online. Two print newspapers with websites, the Voice Weekly and Modern Journey,
were sued for libel in 2012 for reports they said were in the public interest.
In another notorious
example, a member of the military-backed ruling party urged parliament to uncover the identity of
pseudonymous blogger, “Dr. Seik Phwar,” following a January 14, 2013 post titled, “Is Parliament
Above The Law?”
The article questioned parliament’s decision to amend a law governing a nine-
member, presidentially-appointed constitutional tribunal with power to overrule the government.
The amendment, which Thein Sein adopted on January 22 under pressure from parliamentarians,
gives them the right to challenge the tribunal’s rulings, even though its authority is outlined in
article 324 of the 2008 constitution.
On February 8, a 17-member parliamentary committee was
established to uncover the blogger’s identity, though when it announced its findings in July it did
Simon Roughneen, “Burma’s Press Council Threatens Resignation Over Media Rules,” July 18, 2013,
“Bad News: New Freedoms Under Threat,” Economist, August 17, 2013, http://www.economist.com/news/asia/21583700‐
Human Rights Watch, “Reforming Telecommunications in Burma,”
In August 2013, outside the coverage period of this report, a state news report said a bill amending the ETL submitted to
parliament proposed more lenient sentences.
In January 2010, a former military officer and a foreign affairs official were sentenced to death, and another foreign affairs
official was sentenced to 15 years in prison, for leaking information and photographs about military tunnels and a general’s trip
to North Korea. Interview with Bo Kyi, cofounder of the Association for Assisting Political Prisoners (Burma), July 2012. The
executions have not been carried out.
“Burmese Editor and Publisher Charged with Libel,” BBC, September 20, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world‐asia‐
19659294; Phanida, “Gov’t Construction Engineer Sues Modern Journal,” Mizzima, March 7, 2012,
Oliver Spencer, “Myanmar: Dr Seik's Famous Blog Post being Investigated by Parliament (in English),” Article 19, February 13,
2013, http://www.article19.org/join‐the‐debate.php/91/view/; Saw Zin Nyi, “Naypyitaw Investigates the Mysterious Case of
‘Dr. Seik Phwar,’” Mizzima, March 5, 2013,
“Burmese MPs Force Out Constitutional Court Judges,” BBC, September 6, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world‐asia‐
REEDOM ON THE
not appear to have succeeded.
The case was further complicated by the blogger’s unclear political
affiliation, since Seik Phwar had criticized both Aung San Suu Kyi and Thein Sein alike since 2011,
and many observers believe he is influenced by anti-reformist military hardliners. Some of his
articles were reproduced in the journal Smart News, which is published by the information ministry.
How the new environment might transform state surveillance, which has historically been pervasive
and politicized, is not known. Experts interviewed for this report said there are no funds or interest
in developing nationwide technical surveillance at present, though activists are still monitored.
The junta is believed to have carried out cyberattacks against opposition websites in the past. These
attacks increased in February 2013 when many journalists and academics, including the author of
this report, received Google’s notification of state-sponsored attempts to infiltrate personal
accounts on its e-mail service, Gmail;
officials denied responsibility.
Some recipients speculated
the attackers had military support.
“Parliamentary Commission Fails to Expose Defamatory Blogger,” Eleven Media News, July 2, 2013,
Thomas Fuller, “E‐Mails of Reporters in Myanmar Are Hacked,” New York Times, January 10, 2013,
Crispin, “As Censorship Wanes, Cyberattacks Rise in Burma,” CPJ Internet Channel, February 11, 2013,
The Associated Press, “Myanmar Denies Hacking Journalist Email Accounts,” February 11, 2013,
IT experts and journalists interviewed in 2012 and 2013 noted that those who previously received ICT trainings in Russia and
other countries could still be playing a role in launching cyberattacks against opposition websites and journalists.
REEDOM ON THE
In May 2012, the government announced it was in the process of drafting Cambodia’s
first ever cybercrime law, which netizens fear could extend traditional media
restrictions online (see V
At least three antigovernment blogs remain inaccessible on most ISPs, after an apparent
government ban in 2011, implemented without transparency, (see L
In November 2012, the government told internet cafés near Phnom Penh schools to
relocate or close, threatening access throughout the capital
Obstacles to Access (0-25)
Limits on Content (0-35)
Violations of User Rights (0-40)
*0=most free, 100=least free
REEDOM ON THE
New media and increased internet access are transforming the information environment in
Cambodia, where press freedom is traditionally curtailed. Through the use of new media and
digital tools, young activists of both genders are able to disseminate views on important social and
political issues, including the country’s besieged environmental resources. Social media websites
are quickly becoming an integral tool for sharing information and opinion.
The Royal Government of Cambodia,
led by Prime Minister Hun Sen since 1998, restricts access
to sexually explicit content but has yet to systematically censor online political discourse, leading
some observers to hope Cambodia is entering an era of “digital democracy.”
Yet the tide may be turning. Authorities have begun to interfere with information and
communications technology (ICT) access, blocking at least three blogs hosted overseas on multiple
ISPs for content that criticized the government since 2011. In 2012, government ministries
threatened to shutter internet cafes too near schools—citing moral concerns—and instituted
surveillance of cafe premises and cell phone subscribers as a security measure that could foretell the
emphasis of the country’s first cybercrime law, which the government began drafting in May 2012.
Online activists continued to raise public awareness around a number of causes such as the
imprisonment of veteran journalist Mam Sonando, who was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment
after documenting land seizures in 2012, then released on probation in 2013. Yet the very success
of such campaigns may be spurring the leadership’s efforts to curb internet freedom in the same
way they do traditional media.
The International Telecommunication Union reported internet penetration in Cambodia at just 5
percent in 2012.
Other estimates are higher: Cambodia’s Ministry of Posts and
Telecommunications (MPTC) reported 2.7 million Internet users in March 2013, around 18
percent of the population of around 15 million.
The absence of an extensive landline network has historically restricted internet penetration, since
the fixed landlines that broadband internet services depend on are often unavailable in rural areas.
Wireless broadband, which emerged in 2006, has helped bridge the digital divide between rural
and urban internet users.
Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy. King Norodom Sihamoni succeeded his father as head of state in 2004.
Sopheap Chak, “Digital Democracy Emerging in Cambodia,” UPI Asia Online, November 11, 2009, http://bit.ly/1fyzWq3.
International Telecommunication Union, “Percentage of Individuals Using the Internet, 2000‐2012,” http://bit.ly/14IIykM .
Suy Heimkhemra, “Cheap Data, Better Tech Putting More Cambodians Online,” Voice of America, March 25, 2013,
http://www.voanews.com/content/cheap‐data‐better‐tech‐putting‐more‐cambodians‐online/1628531.html. The consulting
firm “We Are Social” put penetration at 16 percent in a late 2012 report. See, Simon Kemp, “Social Digital and Mobile in
Cambodia,” We Are Social (blog), November 7, 2012, http://wearesocial.net/blog/2012/11/social‐digital‐mobile‐cambodia/.
REEDOM ON THE
There are at least 24 internet service providers (ISPs) operating in the Cambodian market—
government accounts cite as many as 27
—and they offer competitive rates for high-speed internet,
at around $12 a month.
Affordable smart phones, tablets and other devices have also contributed
to the rise in the number of Cambodian internet and mobile users. About 98 percent of internet
users today have mobile access, either via satellite networks or Wi-Fi connections, according to the
MPTC. However, insufficient electricity supplies often result in nationwide blackouts—which
impose constraints on computer and internet use.
Mobile phone users surpassed the number using fixed landlines surprisingly early in Cambodia, and
have gained in popularity since 2000, even at the bottom of the economic pyramid, due to their
As of September 2012, mobile penetration was at 131 percent, because some people
own more than one device.
The figures are the outcome of intense competition among 10 mobile
service providers, who offer free SIM cards, affordable handsets and bonuses in their efforts to
secure more market share. In April 2013, the MPTC attempted to pass a resolution banning all
providers from offering these bonuses, apparently to protect companies with links to officials from
losing out to their competitors, but backed down after a public outcry.
Thanks to these low prices, mobile phones have become indispensable in Cambodia, preferred over
traditional communications including landlines and the postal service. With poor transportation
infrastructure and electricity coverage, mobile phones offer the most convenient access to a range
of services including radio, music and video, and increasingly web access. Beyond that, mobile
phones have had a great impact on mobilization and collective actions. In the run-up to the 2007
and 2013 elections, political parties used short-message service (SMS) text messaging as the
cheapest and most effective way of spreading their message, while election monitoring groups also
used SMS to gather data. With technical support from the Cambodian NGO Open Institute and the
International Foundation for Electoral Systems, the Cambodian National Election Committee
(NEC) launched a voice-based information service to provide pre-recorded details for voters, free
of charge, in advance of the National Assembly election scheduled in July 2013.
Language is another obstacle to access, since few online applications are coded in Khmer.
Technology companies and ICT experts have made a significant investment to improve Cambodia’s
infrastructure, including the development of Khmer language applications. The Khmer Unicode
font become widely available after the government recognized it as a standard in 2010.
O.U. Phannarith, Head of CamCERT and Permanent Member of Cybercrime Law, Working Group of National ICT Development
Authority, “Cambodia Effort in Fighting Cybercime in the Absence of Law,” slideshow presented at the Asia Pacific Regional
Mock Court, Jakarta, Indonesia, September 18‐19, 2012.
“Cheap Data, Better Tech Putting More Cambodians Online,” VOA News, March 25, 2013, http://bit.ly/109eoTm .
Sopheap Chak, “Mobile Technology gives Cambodians a Voice,” UPI Asia Online, 23 April 2010, http://bit.ly/a6vs0S.
International Telecommunication Union, “Mobile‐Cellular Telephone Subscriptions, 2000‐2012.”
Kaing Menghun and Joshua Wilwohl, “Ban on Generous Mobile Top‐Up Offers Lifted,” Cambodia Daily, May 7, 2013,
http://www.cambodiadaily.com/archive/ban‐on‐generous‐mobile‐top‐up‐offers‐lifted‐22713/. See also, Menghun and
Wilwohl, “Mobile Bonuses Axed after Firm Complaint,” Cambodia Daily, May 2, 2013, http://bit.ly/16zRyyd.
Open Institute, “IVR‐based Information for the 2013 National Assembly Election Available,” 18 March 2013,
Sebastian Strangio and Khouth Sophak Chakrya, “Unicode opens door for Khmer computing,” May 2, 2008,
REEDOM ON THE
years of collaboration by software developers, the release of Google’s Khmer translation feature is
anticipated by the end of 2013.
In addition, developers Sous Samak and Kim Sokphearum
launched their own Automatic English-Khmer Translation System in March.
With these efforts, it
is hoped that Khmer speaking netizens will be able to read non-Khmer content and vice versa,
connecting Cambodian netizens to a wider audience.
The government welcomes and supports such technology and infrastructure developments.
However, despite public claims to support freedom of expression by Information Minister Khieu
Kanharith and others,
officials have taken steps to interfere in internet access. In early 2010 the
government planned to introduce a state-run exchange to control all local ISPs with the declared
aim of strengthening internet security against pornography, theft and cybercrime.
however, has been postponed due to popular opposition—even from inside the government.
There is no independent regulatory body overseeing the digital landscape in Cambodia, and
controls are implemented through ad hoc internal circulars.
In early November 2012, a
government circular called for the relocation of all internet cafés within a 500-meter radius of
schools and educational institutions in the capital, Phnom Penh.
The circular cited young people’s
growing addiction to “all kinds of [internet] games” which it categorized as illegal along with
terrorism, economic crime, and pornography.
Penalties for violating the circular include forced
closure, the confiscation of equipment, and arrest, though it did not specify potential sentences.
The rules would affect almost every cybercafe in the city, threatening internet access for those with
no personal computer, according to a map-based visualization produced by the non-profit web
portal Urban Voice Cambodia, which puts nearly every building in the capital within 500 meters of
one school or another.
Internet users worry this indicates the kind of heavy-handed regulation
that might feature in an upcoming cyberlaw, which the government announced it would draft in
May 2012. So far, though, the circular has yet to be implemented.
At least three popular Cambodian blogs hosted overseas were blocked for perceived
antigovernment content in 2011, and most users within the Kingdom are still unable to access them
Arne Mauser, “Google Translate now Supports Khmer,” Official Google Translate Blog, April 18, 2013, http://bit.ly/18efRin.
Prak Chanseyha, “Two Young Cambodian Women Develop an Automatic Translation System” [In Khmer], March 26, 2013,
“Minister: Democracy Exists Without Opposition Newspapers,” Cambodia Herald, May 3, 2013, http://bit.ly/18zuUnz.
Sopheap Chak, “Cambodia's Great Internet Firewall?” Global Voices Online, March 2, 2010, http://bit.ly/brP14M .
Brooke Lewis and Sam Rith, “Ministers Differ on Internet Controls,” Phnom Penh Post, February 26, 2010,
A Circular is a measure endorsed by a Minister or the Prime Minister and is used to explain a point of law or to provide
guidance with regards to a point of law. It is advisory in nature, and does not have binding legal force, though it can include
penalties for non‐compliance.
LICADHO, “New Circular Aims to Shut Down Internet Cafes in Cambodia,” press release, December 13, 2012,
Cambodian Center for Human Rights, “Cambodian Government Seeks to Shut Down Internet Cafés in Phnom Penh Thereby
Posing a Threat to Internet Freedoms,” briefing note, December 14, 2012, http://bit.ly/17cObuG.
Urban Voice Cambodia, “Save the Internet Cafes Campaign,” March 15, 2013, http://bit.ly/1bR8pxp.
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested