Cambodia blocks 17 media websites before vote

Independent media sites taken offline for 48 hours as Cambodians prepare to vote on Sunday in a controversial election.

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The Phnom Penh Post was among those taken offline for 48 hours by the government [Erin Handley/Al Jazeera]
The Phnom Penh Post was among those taken offline for 48 hours by the government [Erin Handley/Al Jazeera

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – The government blocked access to independent media websites just hours before polling in the country’s controversial national election begins.

Phos Sovann, director general of information and broadcasting at the Information Ministry, confirmed a total of 17 websites – including Voice of America, Radio Free Asia (RFA), Voice of Democracy, and the Phnom Penh Post – had been targeted.

“We requested to our committee members, along with the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Telecommunications, to close those websites down,” he said.

The National Election Committee requested political parties and media outlets to “remain silent” for a 24-hour period in advance of election day on Sunday.

The government edict comes a week after a sudden proliferation of WhatsApp groups, in which potentially hundreds of Cambodians found themselves added to chats through the Facebook-owned messenger service.

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Sovann requested internet service providers to block the sites for 48 hours, while other news sites friendly to strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen‘s regime remained accessible online.

“We observed that the contents of those new media are provocative. Those contents are very political in their tendencies, and they are restricting to the election,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s unfair … It’s just for 48 hours before the election.”

Clamping down

The move comes during a political and media crackdown in Cambodia.

Opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested on questionable allegations of treason in September last year and his party was dissolved by the Supreme Court – led by a member of the ruling party – leaving some three million voters disenfranchised and the election without a viable opposition.
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