Netizen Report: New Cambodian Law Bans Journalists From Including “Personal Opinion” in Reporting

Cambodia's Phnom Penh Post editor-in-chief Kay Kimsong (L) is held by senior newspaper staff from their Phnom Penh office on May 7, 2018. - Crisis gripped Cambodia's last independent newspaper Monday as the editor-in-chief was suddenly sacked by a new Malaysian owner with rumoured links to strongman Hun Sen and several senior editorial staff resigned. (Photo by TANG CHHIN Sothy / AFP)        (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)
Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Post editor-in-chief Kay Kimsong (left), who had just been fired by the paper’s new owner, surrounded by senior newspaper staff on May 7, 2018.

The Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in internet rights around the world. It originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Ellery Roberts Biddle, Marianne Diaz, Nwachukwu Egbunike, Rohith JyothishMong Palatino, Inji Pennu, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

With elections approaching in July, Cambodia’s National Election Committee has published a set of plans intended to monitor and control online news.

A new inter-ministry working group, formed to investigate media outlets deemed to be spreading “fake news,” has put forth a new regulation that bans journalists from including “personal opinion or prejudice” in their reporting, publishing news that “affects political and social stability,” conducting interviews at polling stations, or broadcasting news that could sow “confusion and loss of confidence” in the election. Violations are punishable by fines of up to $7,355.

The Ministry of Information will be empowered to censor websites and social media pages found in violation of the regulation. Internet service providers will be required to install software that allows the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications to “easily filter or block any websites, accounts or social media pages that are deemed illegal.”

These measures follow the demise of the country’s only two independent newspapers, the Phnom Pehn Post and the Cambodia Daily. After receiving crippling tax bills, the Daily ceased its operations in September 2017, while the Post’s owner sold the newspaper. The publication now belongs to Sivakumar S Ganapathy, who is the managing director of a Malaysia-based PR company that has worked on behalf of Cambodia’s ruling party and Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Meanwhile in Tanzania, a much-maligned “blogger tax” goes into effect on June 15, and will require bloggers and independent website owners to register and pay roughly $900 per year to publish online. If blogs and other types of online content, such as YouTube channels, operate after June 15 without a license, they may be punished by a fine “not less than five million Tanzanian shillings” (about $2,500), or imprisonment for “not less than 12 months or both.”

Multiple major independent news sites have preemptively closed up shop. The extremely popular Jamii Forums—which has been dubbed both the “Tanzanian Reddit” and “Swahili Wikileaks”—shut itself down last week on grounds that the law creates insurmountable regulatory barriers for sites like Jamii. In December 2016, Tanzanian police arrested Maxence Melo, co-founder, and director of Jamii Forums, for refusing to disclose information on its members, a demand made under the Cybercrimes Act.

Reporters Without Borders has called on the government to scrap the new regulation.

Facebook user in India arrested for complaining about poor infrastructure
A man from Kerala, India, was arrested by police after writing a Facebook post about a damaged road and calling on a local politician to repair it. The politician alleged that the post was “defamatory” and insulted her gender and religion. She filed a complaint with police who subsequently made the arrest. The man was released on bail shortly afterward.

Russian journalist forced to resign over Instagram comments
Russian reporter Alexandra Terikova was forced to resign for posting an Instagram video of kindergarten students singing a song for Russian President Vladimir Putin and then giving an interview about the video to an independent channel. The video was posted alongside a sarcastic hashtag and a message critical of the jingoistic tone of the song.

A death sentence and a viral video mark the end of Telegram in Iran
An Iranian man is facing the death penalty for posts made on his Telegram app channel, where he allowed users to freely post their opinions. Hamidreza Amini will go to trial on June 25 on charges of “insulting the prophet,” “insulting the supreme leader,” “acting against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” and “disturbing public opinion.”

Amini was held in solitary confinement and interrogated without access to legal counsel after his arrest. He went on hunger strike on June 3 to protest his conditions and was hospitalized but then transferred back to prison before receiving adequate treatment, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran.

The Iranian Judiciary issued an order on April 30 to block Telegram on national security grounds. Since then, a parody song about the filtering of Telegram by the Iranian musical group DasandazBand has gone viral on social media.

Leading news sites blocked in Venezuela
Two Venezuelan news outlets that have managed report on the country’s ongoing political and economic crises for the past four years were knocked offline on major state-affiliated internet service provider networks during the first week of June. Anecdotal evidence and technical testing confirmed that both La Patilla and El Nacional were inaccessible on CANTV, the country’s largest telecommunications provider, which is controlled by state authorities.

The block followed a court-issued fine of about $10,000 against El Nacional, on claims by the state that the newspaper had inflicted “moral damages” on United Socialist Party of Venezuela Vice President Diosdado Cabello when he served as president of the National Assembly.

Will France get a fake news bill?
The French parliament started debating a government-proposed bill aimed at curbing the “manipulation of information” in the three-month period preceding an election. The law would allow candidates to complain about the dissemination of false information about them online and judges will have 48 hours to decide on a case. During a parliamentary session discussing the bill on 7 June, left-wing and right-wing members of Parliament from the opposition slammed the bill.

New Research

Tightening the Noose on Freedom of Expression: 2018 Status of Internet Freedom in Nigeria”—Open Observatory of Network Interference

Disconnected: A Human Rights-based Approach to Network Disruptions”—Global Network Initiative

The Internet Governance and Digital Rights Monitor: Mapping Digital Rights Situation in Pakistan”—Digital Rights Monitor