Internet Cafe Ban Worries Bloggers

Posted December 18th, 2012 at 7:11 am (UTC+7)
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Cambodian bloggers say a new government ban on Internet cafes near schools could mean the elimination of Phnom Penh cyber cafes altogether.

The Ministry of Post and Telecommunications has issued a circular banned Internet cafes within 500 meters of any school. It also bans Internet use to people under the age of 18 and “outlines numerous dangers that the Internet poses, such as terrorism, economic crimes and the distribution of pornography,” the Cambodian Daily reported.

The rights group Licadho points out that the new ministry circular would mean “a near-complete” ban on cyber cafes.

Tep Sovichet, a 17-year-old high school student and a blogger, says he has little reason to support the new measure. Not all cyber cafes are online gaming centers, he wrote in a blog post in Khmer language recently. Many of them are resource centers, where students and others come to learn, regardless of their age, and where they have access to news and information from a variety of sources.

Tep Sovichet, who hopes to become a computer programmer and web developer, says having the cafes near schools also improves school attendance.

A blogger at KhmerBird.com writes: “I totally support the ideas behind this circular. But I think to restrict games and pornography form those Internet cafes, it is not necessary to close the Internet cafes.”

Licadho Director Naly Pilorge called the ministry’s circular a “heavy-handed effort to shut down affordable and accessible venues for using the Internet in Cambodia.” It “is not only legally unfounded,” she said. “It is a transparent attempt to block part of the population’s access to independent sources of information through news sites and social media.”


Map produced by LICADHO showing 500-meter buffer zones from education institutions (black squares)

Related links:
Internet Users Fear Online Suppression With Draft of Cyber Law

Internet Freedom in Cambodia – A Timeline

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

View From an Afghan Blogger

Posted January 19th, 2012 at 3:46 pm (UTC+7)
4 comments

Bun Tharum, Phnom Penh

Hameed Tasal is a 23-year-old blogger and technologist from Jalalabad, Afghanitan. He’s one of the authors of a blog called Jalalagood.

I asked him to guest blog his perspectives on a monthlong trip he took to Cambodia–his first visit ever. He writes:

“I was in Cambodia for one month this time. I was invited to do some training and visit projects by Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases and Disasters, or InSTEDD, in Cambodia. You can google them. (I am running on Basic HTML mode which means I can’t link.) This trip was a little work and some vacation time.

Right next to Hameed is Chum Mey, a Tuol Sleng survivor

“I was renting an apartment from a professor of Pannasatra University. A very friendly and nice person. We bonded very well. That’s where I was staying most of the time. Having stayed in Phnom Penh for a week, I wanted to see the real and more rural Cambodia so I went to Kampot for a week. I made some local friends and I went to some of the rice
fields and volunteered to help with the rice harvest for a few hours. I went to the college of education in Kampot a couple of times. I was connected to the college through Volunteer Service Overseas, which is a British organization, and US Peace Corps volunteers that I’d met on the bus to Kamput. Then Charlene, the VSO volunteer, recommended Rabbit Island, and I went there and spent a night on the gulf of Thailand. I also went to Kep. I liked the small town and simple life of the people.

“I feel accomplished when I can be of help to others. Afghanistan is similar to Cambodia. Corruption is a big issue here. That makes rich people (usually dirty money) richer and poor people ever more poor. I come from a poor family, and I feel like developing the poor’s livelihood is where I belong. I went to an orphanage and I was teaching those kids how to make and use a rocket cooker (make it out of trash cans) in Phnom Penh and our knife broke when we were cutting cans for the stove. I went to the nearby market with a kid to buy another one. We were walking hand in hand, and it felt so heart warming when the 9-year-old kid squeezed my hand to show affection.

“I usually blog about social issues and injustice like corruption, human rights, education and so on. I travel a lot for work and I blog about work and the security and other constraints that I face during work and how that hinders our development.

“I am not a new blogger. Internet has made my life a lot easier. From news to finding local restaurants, etc. I think that I should contribute and share my stories and what is going on in my society with the rest of the world.

“When I first came to Cambodia I went to a restaurant and met with some expats and had dinner with them, went to the markets with them, hung out with them. But a few days later, I realized that those were people that I can hang out with any time.

“I wanted to make Khmer friends and blend in there. I wanted to spend time with them and get to know them. During my time in Kampot, I got to do all of that. When I went to the bloggers’ meet up there, I saw young people who were actively working for social change. I think that locals can help their own community more than the internationals can. If both work together, then that’s very effective. I admire the young Cambodian bloggers’ activism and their endeavors for the betterment of their society, though they face some challenges re their freedom of expression.

“I have Facebook friends from Cambodia and Twitter followers, and I enjoy talking/discussing things with them.”

Thanks, Hameed.

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

Jobs Remembered in the Digital Corners of Cambodia

Posted October 10th, 2011 at 8:58 am (UTC+7)
2 comments

Bun Tharum, Phnom Penh

Cambodia has no official Apple Store where fans of Steve Jobs, who died Thursday at 56, can pay homage. But Cambodian Facebook pages were cluttered with news stories, messages and memorable quotes from the man who helped found Apple and led the company through the explosion of the information age.

Here, he is best know for his iPhone and iPad, two desirable gadgets that have found their way into the Cambodian marketplace.

Sen Tharo, a graphic design student in Phnom Penh, wrote shortly after news of Jobs’ death: “If you love apple, you’d better remember the name of Steve Jobs- one of the brightest visionary in this 21century.”

Many people have been touched by Apple’s cool gadgets, as well as fascinated by Jobs’ salesmanship. I talked to Chean Long, a long-time Apple user, photographer and video producer about how the machines have helped his work.

“The first computer I ever used was in the 4th grade,” he said in an e-mail. “It was an Apple II Macintosh. Apple products have definitely changed the way we interact with electronic devices. Someone took the time and the effort to make sure the user experience is one of a kind and just perhaps one would forget they’re using a device and it becomes and extension of our mind. It’s just a part of my everyday life and I can’t see myself buying competitors products.”

. Photo courtesy of Chean Long

Inside Chean Long's studio

Referring to the iPhone, the Cambodian-American Apple lover wrote: “From my phone I can interact with the world, and it’s not a pain because IOS has such a great interface.”

Chean Long is currently working in Phnom Penh. He runs a YouTube channel, Third World Studio, to showcase some of his digital videos, most of them shot and edited in Cambodia.

But Apple products are not just for professionals like Chean Long.

For a mother like Keo Kalyan, the simplicity of the product design is what appeals to her. She admits that gadgets like the iPad have significantly changed the way she reads news, magazines and books.

“I spend far less than before I had an iPad on magazines,” she said in an e-mail Thursday. “It saves me alot, both space and money. I can get access to a wide range of information just at my finger tips… Most that is not widely available, [but] can read those on iPad.”

But it was more than his gadgets that made both of them respect Jobs and lament his loss.

“To me, Steve was the best marketer CEO and visionary I have ever known,” she wrote. “His name will be even more remembered if [he shares] some if his wealth to digital charity, like Gates.”

“We’ve lost an icon,” Chean Long wrote. “I mean here is a guy that started in a garage and then took the reins of a company to make it the most valuable firm in the world. Just amazing. One thing that I personally admire is that he loved what he did. If it were possible we should all do things that we love and are passionate about. Passion is underrated and Steve had that in droves.”


Cambodians working high tech said Jobs’ death is great loss to information technology, saying they are sadden by the news. VOA’s Khmer Kong Sothanarith reports from Phom Penh.

Suggest links:
Steve Jobs’ Mantra Rooted in Buddhism: Focus and Simplicity

ខ្សែភាពយន្តឯកសាររូបភាព អំពីការ លាចាកលោក របស់ Steve Jobs

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

Banned Chea Vichea Film Goes Online

Posted September 29th, 2011 at 8:21 am (UTC+7)
1 comment

Just as rights activists have turned to the Web to advocate against land grabs, a group of filmmakers are using online capabilities to distribute a film that has been banned from distribution in Cambodia.

Who Killed Chea Vichea,” which examines the murder of the labor activist in 2004 has been prohibited from distribution in the country. It has also been banned directly from private screenings on a number of occasions.

Now the filmmakers have made it available for free online.

I wrote to Rich Garella, one of the producers, to find out who he hoped would find the movie and watch it.

“People can download it anywhere in the world, unless they live in a country that violates human rights by limiting freedom of expression,” he said in an e-mail. “Governments that are afraid of the truth always have good reason to be afraid of the truth. In blocking the free movement of information they show their true nature.”

The document is an indictment of the judicial process following the attack on Chea Vichea, a hugely popular union leader who was killed in broad daylight in the middle of Phnom Penh. Two men who were widely believed innocent, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, were held in prison for years, despite evidence they should have been exonerated, for the crime.

Government officials, meanwhile, have said the film cannot be imported to Cambodia or screened in the country, in an attempt to keep the public from viewing a film that would embarrass the police and the courts, Garella said.

“But under what legal authority do these officials make these declarations?” he wrote. “Where is it written in law or regulation? And how could such a law or regulation, or even a statement that some official thinks up on the spot, be legal when it conflicts with both the Cambodian Constitution and the International Declaration of Human Rights?”

“If these decisions come from personal authority and not legal authority, it would be a feature of a dictatorship,” he wrote. “Only in a dictatorship are one person’s orders above the law.”

Cambodia’s laws require freedom of information, he said. Meanwhile, thousands of films have been shown in Cambodia without a similar ban.

“As far as I know this is the only film in recent history that has received this treatment,” he said. “So my conclusion is that the government is very worried about this case.”


U.S. filmmaker Rich Garella spoke recently about his documentary ‘Who Killed Chea Vichea?’ with VOA Khmer’s Men Kimseng.

Suggested links:
Chea Vichea Documentary Banned at Freedom Park

Sam Rainsy Party Plans Screening of Chea Vichea Film

Chea Vichea Film Prompts Questions in US

Banned film an internet hit

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

Rights Activists Find Blogs as Advocacy Platforms

Posted September 16th, 2011 at 10:48 pm (UTC+7)
1 comment

With the advent of blogging platforms that are easy to launch and maintain, Cambodia’s rights activists are making use of the Internet to get their message out to a wider audience. In less than five minutes, nearly anyone can create a blog, whether its about his or her personal life as a university student or as an online outlet to aggregate issues facing Cambodia today.

Probably the first blog to call international attention to ongoing land issues in Cambodia is the “Save Boeung Kak Campaign,” maintained by the Housing Rights Task Force, a coalition of non-governmental advocates for housing rights in Phnom Penh. The blog features a petition to halt forced evictions and provides updates on this controversial issue, following World Bank warnings last month the international agency would freeze aid to Cambodia “until the government reaches a deal with thousands of residents who are under threat of eviction in a huge development project.”

By pulling together news stories from far-reaching outlets, the blog makes it easier for people to follow this eviction in particular.

But the “Save Boeung Kak Campaign” blog is not alone. More blogs are appearing on the Internet calling for support. Among them are “Prey Lang: It’s YOUR Forest Too,” “CambodiaTrainspotter,” and “Sahrika.”

Suggested links:
Prey Lang Activists Petition Internationals for Help

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

What To Make of Faster Speeds, Smarter Phones?

Posted August 17th, 2011 at 10:18 pm (UTC+7)
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In a country where TV and radio are so popular, mobile phone is now a new means to bring news to Cambodians nationwide.

Nearly 60 percent of the population of 14 million are mobile phone users, according to a recent report from BuddeComm, a telecommunications research company. That’s a major jump, from around 690,000 (with three service providers) less than a decade ago.

With this high mobile phone penetration (and now nine providers), what impact will it bring to the Cambodian population?

A 2010 study by the BBC World Trust Service and UNDP, “Youth Civic Participation in Cambodia,” found that about 50 percent of phone owners use the device to listen to the radio, while only 5 percent use it for the Internet.

Advertisers have noticed the opportunity to increase Internet consumers. These days, a series of ads run on Cambodian TV that portrays youth hanging out at cafes with friends and using touch-screen phones to catch up on the news of the day over cups of coffee.

The latest generation of phone network, 3.5G, is now billed as way to offer faster mobile Internet speed. More and more Cambodians are likely to make use of the faster speed and improvements in phone technology to absorb information.

Phin Santel, a prolific blogger inclined toward social media, responded to a question I recently posed on Google+, a new networking site that aims to compete with Facebook: “to read a book is not easy but I usually read news via my mobile.”

Mobile networks are competing for customers by introducing the latest technology, bringing broadband Internet speeds over the new 3.5G network. Some have offered free Internet access for a year as a way to compete in this crowded sector. These networks also understand “access on the go,” a rising demand among young Cambodians with their new smartphones and touch-screen devices.

“The mobile is good for news and quick surfing, no doubt,” smartphone user Dara Bunhim told me. “But it won’t replace books. It’s too distracting.”

In a recent tweet, Sok Pongsametrey, a software engineer in Phnom Penh suggested that city residents especially are embracing new mobile devices: “I can see that on the net, they’re so excited waiting for #iPhone5 arrives, many sites in #Cambodia share the rumors.”

Suggested links:
Youth civic participation in Cambodia

Cambodia – Telecoms, Mobile, Internet and Forecasts

The Rise of Citizen Media via Mobile Phone in Cambodia

In pictures: Cambodia’s booming mobile phone market

Cambodia: mobile-phone silliness

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

Tweets from Cambodia

Posted July 27th, 2011 at 9:51 pm (UTC+7)
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While most of the Internet users in Cambodia are on networking site Facebook, “Twitter is growing in leaps and bounds,” said a founder of TweetCambodia, which aggregates tweets with hashtag #cambodia.

“Cambodia has a very phone-centric culture and that’s suited well to Twitter use. We are seeing a lot more sophistication in the use of it, including the use of Khmer Unicode which is particularly interesting,” John Weeks added.

With 800 people following his micro-blogging account on Twitter, John Weeks admitted that followers seek out “content and opinion. That’s probably why my follow list is smaller than the @PhnomPenhPost, or entertainers like @MeasSokSophea”.

Despite “Facebook is more entertaining with tons of applications and Cambodian people like them, Twitter user Y Samphy says “A lot of breaking news about Cambodia also can be found on Twitter first. For example, twits about Cambodia stampede at Koh Pich while it was happening were lightening fast”.

In an email response, John Weeks also said that “Earlier this year much of the discussion over the alleged blocking of KI-Media was driven via Twitter. I expect to see Twitter grow as a tool for sourcing and sharing news. But it can also spread rumors like wildfire. How do you fact-check and verify a tweet?”

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

Mobile Internet And the Digital Divide: Cambodia

Posted July 16th, 2011 at 11:25 pm (UTC+7)
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Since the United Nations has declared that “Internet access is a human right,” it’s hard to imagine how Cambodia, a country of low Internet penetration, will provide greater access to people across the country.

In a previous blog post, I pointed out a UN report that calls for “greater Internet freedoms” and declares that “Internet access is a human right.” Provided that Cambodia has this strong mobile network infrastructure, connecting Cambodians to the Internet via mobile devices means to foster rights to information as well as Net access.

Mobile subscribers could potentially be Internet users. The mobile technology is arguably the strategic means of increasing the number of Net users.

Norbert Klein, a veteran known for introducing e-mail communication system to Cambodia in the early 1990s, told me via Facebook chat that, “in many countries with a weak infrastructure the number of mobile phones is much much higher than internet users”.

There are nine mobile network service providers that serve more than half of Cambodia’s 14 million people, according to a recent report from the BBC. However, Cambodia could see a significant boost in the next few years, thanks in part to easy-to-connect technology like mobile Internet and more content in Khmer language. Like any other country, Cambodia’s demand to consume content like news, information and entertainment creates a necessity for people to go online.

A report by ITU, a United Nations agency that specializes in Information and Communication Technologies, found that

“Cambodia is a textbook example of wireless boosting telecommunication development. It was the first country in the world where mobile telephone subscribers overtook fixed ones back in 1993. Cambodia began the millennium with more than four out of five telephone subscribers using a wireless phone, the highest ratio in the world.”

“When the ISPs provide high speed access at lower prices – then an expensive computer is not necessary,” added Klein, who regularly comments on Internet and freedom of expression on his blog at http://www.thinking21.org/.

Suggested links:
Cambodia: Databank

Telecommunication development in South East Asia

In pictures: Cambodia’s booming mobile phone market

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

Android and Workarounds for the Problem of Khmer Text

Posted July 9th, 2011 at 11:07 am (UTC+7)
3 comments

Bun Tharum, Phnom Penh

Despite lacking official support from the mobile operating system Android, Cambodian developers here could exploit the code released by Google to make Khmer-language websites readable, a high demand from mobile net users.

In a country like Cambodia, Google’s Android-powered smart phones could provide an alternative solution to most people, compared to higher-end phones like Blackberry or iPhone.

Based on the free and open source Linux, Android smart phones are currently the world’s best-selling.

Here, for the Android mobile platform, which doesn’t properly render the interchangeable Khmer text yet, a third-party app is an ideal solution. Recently released, the Radio Free Asia Khmer Reader app makes it possible for platform users to read RFA’s Khmer-language site.

Thim Chanrithy, the developer, told me that in order to make Khmer text readable, he has to hack the system. The app, version 0.4, is available for download for free.

Without this small software on Android-powered phones, readability is an issue facing Cambodian users. The text on the mobile devices appears unreadable.

These users, however, have already figured out a way to express the message content using Latin as a mean to represent Khmer characters and words. This is increasingly popular among young Cambodians to hit conversation when they’re on social networking sites like Facebook. A user wrote: “klean nas,but nov office leoy…:-( ” (“Hungry now, but still in the office.”)

Cambodia’s Android user group is an online discussion board where more than one hundred people are members actively discussing ways to develop tools as they “need Khmer language on Android,” which hasn’t officially supported by US company Google.

While Android platform users are lagging behind in terms of technical issues, there is good news for Apple users, for whom the newest operating system, Lion, has recently expanded native supports for Khmer Unicode.

This technical barrier goes back to as early as 2002 when a journalist for The Cambodia Daily humorously explained:
[block quote]
“A government minister asked the man who established the first e-mail system in Cambodia if he could send an e-mail in Khmer to his wife, who didn’t speak English. He was told he couldn’t. That’s still the answer, more or less, seven years after e-mail came to Cambodia and five years after the arrival of the Internet. The people who designed the early computers didn’t speak Khmer, so the computers don’t speak it either.”

Suggested links:
Radio Free Asia Khmer Reader app

Cambodia Takes on US Software Giants in Battle for Khmer Computer Script

CAUG (Cambodia Android Users Group) – We need Khmer language on Android

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

Cambodian Computer Wiz Wins Google Grant

Posted June 23rd, 2011 at 2:42 pm (UTC+7)
4 comments

(Bun Tharum, Phnom Penh, BLOG)

Eighteen-year-old Thim Chanrithy is now in Vietnam’s Cantho province for three months, writing software he proposed to the coding giant, Google, to make open-source software more portable.

That idea has special applications in Cambodia, where the Internet is not widely used but where the movement of software from disc to disc is still useful. Thim Chanrithy is the first Cambodian to earn the $5,000 stipend for Google’s “Summer of Code.”

The annual competition lets talented computer science students write code for open source projects. In this case, Thim Chanrithy can use the time and money to write a proposed “appshell,” a utility that would make Linux programs portable. Linux is an open-source coding program generally downloaded from the Internet.

“Any Linux system makes it difficult for normal users to install applications,” he told me recently. “Users have to install new software over the Internet.”

But low Internet penetration in Cambodia is a barrier to Linux users. So he wants to create a small bit of software that would make Linux applications more portable, so that they can be stored on discs or USB memory sticks. That will mean people don’t need the Internet to install them.

Thim Chanrithy, who is known in Cambodian programming circles for his work on the operating system MoonOS, has already posted pictures on Facebook showing off packages from Google, including an activated Visa credit card that will help him in his travels.

While Thim Chanrithy is sure other Cambodians were competitive for the program, he hopes it will be a life-changer for him.

“If possible, I want to work at Google,” Thim Chanrithy said. “I know the company has many open source software development projects.”

The programmer is now at work on another project, making Khmer standard scripts that can work on Android, Google’s mobile operating system.

“I think this Google grant would bring creditability to me and my university,” he said. “For other students, while they can earn a certificate from the US corporation, they also gain invaluable experience by working alongside foreign mentors.”

“I want to run an open-source software development group and work on making educational software for Cambodian users,” he added. “I hope the group can organize an annual summit that invites computer programmers from around the world to exchange knowledge here in Cambodia.”

Suggested links:
Google Summer of Code 2011: Accepted Projects

Google Summer of Code on Wikipedia

Google Summer of Code: Official Site

Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

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Bun Tharum is a freelance journalist, blogger, and digital media specialist. Blogging since 2005, he’s been a contributing-writer for Global Voices Online, Asian Correspondent, and several other print publications. His main interests are information and communication technologies for development and online media. Tharum’s base is Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest capital city.

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