Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cambodian bloggers face persecution

The majority of Cambodian bloggers write in English so they can reach a global audience, but very few touch on one of blogging's most popular topics: politics.

Be Chantra's Khmer-language comedy blog is read by the Cambodian diaspora in the US and Japan but those hoping for something beyond humour are confronted with a banner on his site that reads: "No Politics Here".

"Politics could easily hurt you and it is nonsense," he said.

Last year Radio Free Asia reporter Lem Pichpisey fled to Thailand after receiving anonymous death threats for his reports alleging Cambodia's political elite were involved in illegal logging.

Attacks against journalists in Cambodia have fallen in recent years as the government has turned to the courts to punish reporters or publications it feels have violated the press law, critics say.

Although defamation, the charge most frequently leveled against journalists, was decriminalised in 2006, stiff fines now discourage aggressive reporting.

"The good thing about a blog is that it can be anonymous and you still can be contacted," said Gary Kawaguchi, a digital media trainer at the Department of Media and Communications of Cambodia.

"But the press here is very controlled and people still find out who you are so bloggers still have to be careful," he added.

Chak Sopheap, a university student who started a blog in her own name last year to draw attention to Cambodia's impoverished rural communities, said she was threatened criticising the ruling Cambodian People's Party.

"The message said, 'If I were you, I would run. Otherwise you will be killed,'" Chak Sopheap said.

While her fellow bloggers have vowed to keep their political criticism anonymous, Chak Sopheap said she will continue to post her views, claiming her blog affords more freedom of expression than Cambodia's mainstream media.

"Through blogs people change their attitudes and open their closed-lip habits. They can talk about how society can be developed," she said.


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