Bun Tharum, Phnom Penh
This month, the Phnom Penh court sentenced World Food Program staffer Seng Kunnaka to six months in jail on incitement charges, after he handed out copies of an anti-government printout from KI Media.
This isn’t the first time the government has taken legal action against persons handing out leaflets. But because KI Media is an online news aggregator, Seng Kunnaka’s conviction represents one of the first of its kind. The charges against him put Internet-based media, or even blogs, within site of the courts—at least when they go offline.
Judith Clarke, who researches international journalism at Hong Kong Baptist University, said in an e-mail the government, run by the Cambodian People’s Party, remains mostly unconcerned about the Internet, “because so few people have access to it, and they’re not worried about the educated people who do.” (Cambodia has about 78,000 Internet users, according to UN data.)
“However,” she wrote, “this latest case seems to have involved some printouts of a very anti-government KI Media article, so I suppose CPP anger is understandable.”
The case against Seng Kunnaka also shows that cracking down on an individual is easier than attacking a site like KI Media, as long as it stays online. The site, which began in the 2000s as an email digest, has remained faceless.
In 2007, the English-language Cambodia Daily offered a reward for information about those who run the site, which posts full stories from that newspaper and other mainstream media on its site. The Daily wanted to pursue compensation for copyright infringement. The newspaper’s publisher never found what he was looking for, despite a $100 reward.
For its part, the Ministry of Information says it has never tried to shut down the site. Indeed, this would be hard to do.
The team behind KI Media remains anonymous, and its service is hosted by Google’s Blogger platform. That means KI Media is sitting on some of the most sophisticated servers in the world, while its authors could be anywhere. Blogger prides itself on “the importance of freedom of speech,” according to its website.
KI Media’s contributors, who all use pen names, feed the blog round the clock, keeping content fresh, while keeping out of the reach of those who search for them. And for now, it seems, as long as they are online, its bloggers here are safer than in other coutnries.
“Thailand and Malaysia have both had cases this year against people posting on the Internet, and Vietnam and Burma don’t allow free expression anyway, nor does Singapore, and China is said by the watchdogs to have more internet journalists in jail than any other country in the world,” Clarke wrote. “So Cambodia is still quite lenient compared to most of its neighbors. I don’t think this arrest necessarily augurs a crackdown on the Internet but it’s a strong warning to anybody who wants to pass round anti-CPP material, and to KI Media (and other American-based media) not to step too far.”