Cambodia’s Telecommunications Regulator (TRC) said today that it will investigate internet service providers (ISP) that have not blocked the Cambodia Daily website, warning that those who fail to comply with a now months-old order could lose their licences.
Government documents, which came to light yesterday, show the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, at the request of the General Department of Taxation, ordered ISPs to block access to the Cambodia Daily IP address, as well as its Facebook page and Twitter account.
Only a handful of ISPs seem to have complied with the government request. MekongNet and Sinet KH confirmed the block, and access also appeared to be restricted through the provider Online. The Daily was forced to close in September last year after it was handed a $6.3 million tax bill, which many observers contend was used to silence an outlet often critical of the government.
TRC spokesman Im Vutha said that the noncompliant ISPs – some of which told The Post yesterday they had not received the letter – could face legal consequences under Article 78 of the Telecoms Law.
“We start to investigate those who did not block, because it was ordered by the government,” Vutha said. “If they violate any order from the government, they will face the Telecoms Law.”
“We will give them a warning, give time to correct, and if they do not listen we will revoke their licence,” he said, adding that only the courts could determine the penalty.
Telecom Ministry spokesman Khov Makara today said he had little detailed knowledge of the letter, which was signed by Khay Khunheng, a secretary of state from his ministry, as it came from a “technical department”.
Makara denied the move was a form of censorship.
“Block means you are not able to view; censorship is something different. Censorship means you cannot do – block means you are not allowed to see,” he said.
Ezecom CEO Paul Blanche-Horgan yesterday said he had not seen the ministry’s letter. While government has made attempts over the years to block sites, he said, “we don’t do that”.
“We have never blocked any sites,” he said in an email.
A representative from Cellcard said the company had adhered to the government's order when it was first issued.
“Cellcard acted with due diligence in September 2017 and blocked the IP addresses as requested. However, it appears the Cambodia Daily has since changed its IP address. We are seeking advice from the Ministry on further action to be taken,” they said in a statement.
Neak Longkheang, Digi’s chief marketing officer, maintained his company had not received the letter, but that it would move to block access to the Daily if further pressed by the government.
“If a letter comes, we have to do it," he said. "We will follow the regulations from the government. That’s what we do.”
The Daily is not the first site to be blocked at the behest of the government. In 2011, attempts were made to block access to opposition news blog KI Media, although the government denied any official blackout of the site at the time.
A previous version of this article included a comment from Cellcard CEO Ian Watson that he is unaware of the company having received the letter from the ministry. It has been updated to reflect a subsequent statement from the company.