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July 11 2013

Internet and Elections in Cambodia

Cambodian netizens are actively using Facebook to discuss, debate, and share updates about the July 28 National Assembly elections. Meanwhile, political parties are also maximizing the popular social networking site to reach out to younger voters.

Moses Ngeth, an activist and human rights advocate, admitted his mistake about his earlier assertion that Cambodian Facebook users are only concerned with entertainment issues:

Several months ago I made an interview with media saying that young people (are only) using Facebook for entertainment and their own interest. Since (the start of the) national election campaign, young people on Facebook have proven me wrong; and YES, I admit that I made a wrong comment. I have seen the increasing number of young people who are using this social platform for change. To all brave young people who are publicly standing up for their rights to choose their own leader, accept my apology

Princess Norodom Arunrasmey, daughter of late king Norodom Sihanouk and head of the royalist party, cheers her supporters gathered at the Freedom Park in Phnom Penh. Photo by  Thomas Cristofoletti, Copyright @Demotix (7/3/2013)

Princess Norodom Arunrasmey, daughter of late king Norodom Sihanouk and head of the royalist party, cheers her supporters gathered at the Freedom Park in Phnom Penh. Photo by Thomas Cristofoletti, Copyright @Demotix (7/3/2013)

Rachna Im, a journalist for RFI in Khmer language and a young female blogger, agreed with Moses in a Facebook message reply sent to this author:

Facebook has been used in a brand new way. Users, especially youth, have been recently using the social media as a platform of expressing their political views […] As I noticed, this is a good way to use this social media – to have one's voice heard and to also show a better situation in freedom of expression in Cambodia, not much, but at least a bit better.

However, Rachna reminded Cambodian netizens participating in political debates to respect diverse views:

They normally end up cursing others for having opposite ideas […] They believe they have freedom to support a party – but they don't respect others’ freedom to support a different party. I sometimes find myself hard to believe things posted on Facebook since I understand that that thing is probably posted by only the finger, not the brain.

Still, Rachna applauded young people for bravely expressing their thoughts and hoped that it would improve society especially the freedom of expression situation in Cambodia.

Chantra Be, a social networking manager of the Open Institute and a prominent organizer of BarCamp events in Cambodia who is known to dislike talking about politics, has recently initiated a political discussion. In an interview with this author, Chantra explained his sudden interest in politics:

Personally I don't like politics, and I do not belong to any party. I like to be in the middle. I am a citizen who has the right to vote and share my thoughts. I have read many things on Facebook that touch my heart about Cambodia's situation

Recently, Chantra questioned the role of 164 advisers of the ruling government and whether or not they have correctly advised the government on certain aspects such as health, education, judiciary, investment and the utilization of natural resource.

Screen shot 2013-07-10 at 12.37.03 PM

Sovichet Tep, a high school student and one of the country's youngest bloggers, also noticed the growing importance of social media in the country:

[…] ការចែករំលែកព័ត៌មានជាច្រើននៅលើបណ្ដាញសង្គម មិនមែនទើបតែកើតមានឡើងស្របពេលជិតបោះឆ្នោតឡើយ […] បើតាមខ្ញុំចាំគឺប្រហែលនៅពាក់កណ្ដាល ឬ ចុងឆ្នាំ២០១១ អ្នកប្រើប្រាស់បណ្ដាញសង្គមហ្វេសប៊ុកចាប់ផ្ដើមប្រែប្រួល ដោយផ្ដោតលើការចែករំលែកព័ត៌មាន ព្រោះព័ត៌មានមួយចំនួនពុំត្រូវបានចាក់ផ្សាយពេញលេញតាមបណ្ដាញផ្សព្វផ្សាយដូចជាទូរទស្សន៍ឬវិទ្យុឡើយ។

[…]Information sharing has become viral not only during the start of the elections[…] To my memory, this trend started since the mid or late 2011 when Facebook users began sharing information that are not accessible via the traditional media such as TV or radio.

Although Sovichet is still young and could not yet vote, he believes that information sharing through the Internet can help him make an informed decision in the next election:

ថ្វីបើខ្ញុំពុំទាន់គ្រប់អាយុបោះឆ្នោតក្ដី (តែនឹងចូលរួមក្នុងអាណត្តិក្រោយមិនឲ្យខាន) ក៏បណ្ដាញសង្គមលើអ៊ីនធឺណិតនោះ បានបង្ហាញឲ្យខ្ញុំយល់ជាក់ច្បាស់អំពីស្ថានការណ៍នាពេលបច្ចុប្បន្ន ដើម្បីត្រៀមខ្លួនដើម្បីជ្រើសរើសគណបក្សមួយដែលខ្ញុំគិត និងសង្ឃឹមថាធ្វើបានប្រសើរសម្រាប់ប្រទេសជាតិ។

Although I am too young to vote (But I can already vote in the next election), social media has clearly educated me about the current [political] situation so that I could be well prepared to choose a party that I think and hope would prove to be good for our society.

January 29 2013

Spain: Catalonia's “Declaration of Sovereignty” Translated into 36 Languages

On January 23, 2013, amid rising tensions with the Spanish government, the regional parliament of Catalonia approved by majority vote a Declaration of Sovereignty [ca] — seen widely as a prelude to a referendum on independence, expected to be held by 2014. Thanks to a diverse team of collaborators, the online Catalan-language publication Vilaweb [ca] has been able to publish the document in thirty-six languages.

December 19 2012

Cambodia Bans Internet Cafes Near Schools

Cambodia's Ministry of Post and Telecommunications has issued a circular banning internet cafes within 500 meters of schools or educational buildings. The circular also prohibits internet cafes from welcoming young people under the age of 18, pointing that internet poses numerous dangers such as terrorism, economic crimes and the distribution of pornography, as the Cambodia Daily newspaper reported.

This circular came a few months after the government enforced a previous circular that required internet cafes to set up surveillance cameras and register callers.

The internet-free zones would lead to the closure of almost all internet cafe shops in Phnom Penh. Mapping by Licadho

This has raised a lot of eyebrows among Cambodian bloggers. Tharum Bun wrote on the VOA blog that the new government would eventually eliminate Phnom Penh cyber cafes altogether.

The circular also mentions in a vaguely worded document that people should stop playing internet games.

Tep Sovichet, a 17-year-old blogger and student in Phnom Penh, thinks that the ban cannot stop students from dropping off classes and playing games at cyber cafes. He all but supports the circular.

Not all the cyber cafes are places where students play internet games, and online crimes aren't usually conducted from cyber cafes. Not all students go to internet cafes for games, but it can be for various purposes […] such as doing assignments, learning new things and geting news from all kinds of sources.

According to the circular, internet cafe owners throughout the country are being asked to sign the contract with the Ministry.

Khmerbird, another Cambodian blogger, wrote in his blog:

I totally support the ideas behind this circular. But I think to restrict games and pornography from those internet cafes, it is not necessary to close the internet cafes. Moreover if we apply this rule, almost every internet cafe in Phnom Penh center would be closed.

According to the circular, if an internet cafe is caught within the red zone or if the crime is committed on the premises, “the shop would be closed, all the equipment would be confiscated, and owners would face arrest and be sent to court.”

Faine Greenwood, an avid blogger and freelance journalist based in Southeast Asia wrote on her blog about the ban of the internet cafes on December 18:

Sure, it’s unclear exactly how much power a “circular” actually has to effect change here in Cambodia, or if this is likely to ever become law. But the fact it’s floating around at all is a disturbing indication that the Cambodian government is looking into restricting its relatively free Internet, following the deeply dubious lead of China, an influential friend to the Hun Sen regime.

Urban Voice Cambodia, a crowd-mapping project for Phnom Penh, has started its campaign against the ban by asking people to add their local internet cafes to their website “Submit Report.” By its own calculation, almost all the Internet cafes in Phnom Penh would be closed.

Human rights group Licadho also opposed the circular:

This heavy-handed effort to shut down affordable and accessible venues for using the Internet in Cambodia is not only legally unfounded, it is a transparent attempt to block part of the population’s access to independent sources of information through news sites and social media

December 08 2012

Interview with Chanphal Sok: Cambodian Writer and Songwriter

Going through highs and lows in life, Chanphal Sok found himself moving from place to place with his mother as a child to find enough to support themselves. Writing about his tough life in his Khmer blog between Kampong Cham province and Kratie province, Chanphal has used his blog to write mostly about literature, short stories, short novels as well as Khmer history in Khmer language. Sometimes, he uses Khmer self-effacing humor to write about his personal life. In 2009, he won the third prize of the Nou Hach Literary awards for his 10-page short story ‘Kaboub Luy' or “Wallet”.

A graduate in English literature, although more popularly known as a song writer for many of the most famous contemporary Khmer songs, the 28-year-old song writer and prolific blogger presently works for Hang Meas production, one of the most popular music production companies in Cambodia.

Chanphal Sok

“Life is a trade off. After writing my life story in this blog, I’ve found that I’ve walked so far. Life is a journey, and although it is not an eternity, it is long enough to live a proper life from now on,” he said. Global Voices writer Kounila Keo has the opportunity to email-interview Chanphal.

1. I think you have some connection wth Nou Hach literary award. How many other awards have you got? What do you think of the current situation of writers in Cambodia?

Writing comes natural to me. I love writing, and this talent doesn't come to me that easy, as I have to keep polishing it all the time. Since I've found that I can write, I start putting it into work. Ever since, I've got a lot of support from audiences who listen to songs I write. I had tried many times for Nou Hach Literary award, but finally I got a third place award for my short story: Wallet, in 2009, but several other awards were just certificates of excellence. I think that very few people in Cambodia are interested in writing novels but there are more journalists than novel or story writers. If you ask me to count names of Khmer novel writers, it is very hard to do so. Unfortunately, Khmer people don't read a lot; therefore, not many people are interested in writing. Compared to neighbouring countries, Cambodia doesn't produce a lot of locally-made books or movies, and even our cinemas are quite quiet.

2. I've seen that you've used Facebook and some other online platforms to publish your work? What do you think about the online world today for a professional like you?

Even though I haven't been able to earn a dime from publishing my stories on Facebook or some online platforms like, I am however happy when I get support from Khmer readers. This is what I write for. For my audiences. So far I've met a lot of Khmer readers online, and I am delighted to be able to share much stuff with them on the Internet.

3.What do you think of the printing cost of paper books in Cambodia? Do you think the online platform such as blog (wordpress/blogspot) and Issuu are useful for writers here?

Yes of course. From the past until now, I've published several books which don't cost a lot, but it was hard to sell them. The distribution among small book stores did not work, so those who wanted to buy them also found difficulty to do so. Eventually, I lost a lot of money in the printing. When I publish my stories on the Internet, I don't need to spend a single dollar on it, though I don't earn anything from it either.

4. Do you think the internet will soon become an important source for writers like you to publish your work?

I've always wanted to be a writer since I was little. Growing up, I just want to share my thoughts with the rest of the world, so the online platform is the best choice for me to publish any story. It comes to a point where you don't need to be a professional writer to publish your stories. The Internet provides a very easy means to publish your articles, stories or novels and get a lot of following. More and more Cambodian people are becoming online, so this is a positive sign for the growth of online readership. When we didn't have the Internet in the past, we had to go and beg the printing company to publish our books, but now the Internet can replace the printing industry in some ways. Nowadays, everyone just wants to write and share. Nonetheless, I still love “paper” books, yet it is just that our country doesn't have a lot of book readers. Some people who try to publish books fail a lot, but if I have a lot of money, I will try to publish books and put them at some book stores. We need to strike a balance.

5. Would you like to recommend this to other writers?

I've used the Internet for several years now, and I don't mean to say that publishing books isn't recommended. I would like to recommend that writers now start thinking about publishing their works online if they don't have money to pay for the printing cost. When I first used WordPress, I published my stories on the blog right away. With that said, I still strongly love paper books because they are like souvenirs which I can put in my book shelf, on the bed shelf. They are different from e-books which come in millions, easy to download and read - modern and tiny in size, but they don't have a sentimental value like books.

August 17 2012

October 24 2011

Cambodia: Worst Flooding in a Decade

The heavy rainfall in the upper Mekong River in Laos and Thailand has led to the severe flooding in Cambodia. The catastrophe is already the worst flooding in a decade which left an unpredecented amount of damage in the country.

Many areas have been submerged in floodwaters which affected thousands of hectares of rice paddies. The floods also killed more 200 people, and destroyed road networks, dams, and other public utilities. Thousands of schools were closed nationwide while voter registration for next year's commune election has been extended. Radio Free Asia reported the flood impact summarized by the Vice President of Cambodian's National Committee for Disaster Management, Nhem Vanda

ស្រូវ​ចំនួន​ជាង ៤​សែន​ហិកតារ​បាន​លិច​ទឹក​ជំនន់។ ស្រូវ​ចំនួន​ជាង ២​សែន​៥​ម៉ឺន​ហិកតារ​ទៀត​បាន​ខូចខាត​ទាំង​ស្រុង។ ផ្លូវ​លំ​ប្រវែង​ជិត ៣.០០០​គីឡូម៉ែត្រ​បាន​ខូចខាត។ ទំនប់​ទឹក​ប្រវែង​រវាង ៣០០​គីឡូម៉ែត្រ ទៅ ៤០០​គីឡូម៉ែត្រ បាន​ខូចខាត។ ប្រជាពលរដ្ឋ​ស្លាប់​ចំនួន ២៤៧​នាក់។ សាលារៀន​ជាង ១.០០០​កន្លែង​បាន​លិច​ទឹក​ជំនន់។ គេ​បាន​ប៉ាន់ស្មាន​ជា​ថ្មី​ឲ្យ​ដឹង​ថា តម្លៃ​ខូចខាត​សរុប​ជាង ៤០០​លាន​ដុល្លារ​អាមេរិក។

An estimated 400,000 hectares of rice paddies were flooded. Over 250,000 hectares of rice crops were completely lost. 3,000 kilometers of road infrastructures were destroyed. 300-400 kilometers of the dam were damaged. Over 247 were killed. More than 1,000 schools were flooded. The estimated loss could cost Cambodia over $400 million.

Author's ancestral home in a village of Kompong Cham Province where the flood level is higher than usual

Among the many provinces which experienced severe flooding is Siem Reap, a major tourism destination where Angkor Wat is located. Travelfish gave an update on the situation in Siem Reap:

Throughout most of town, the floods that have plagued Siem Reap for six long weeks have almost entirely subsided, and the watery streets are back to their usual dusty selves.

The flood has also led to the cancellation of Water Festival, held every November and usually attracts more than a million provincial residents to visit the town each year. Last year, the festival ended with great tragedy when more than 300 people were killed in a stampede in Koh Pich island. The anniversary of the tragic incident coincided with the flooding which some analysts fear would make it easy for the government to bypass the question of accountability over the crisis.

There have been various ongoing relief efforts from the local and national levels and including the international community to assist the affected residents of flooded villages. Some of the relief efforts are Caritas, Green Gecko kids flood relief initiative and Japan Alumni of Cambodia's Fund for Flood Relief

Chan Sovannara also writes about the flooding disaster

Man is strong, he can create modern technology, but recently he has been hit by natural disaster. Some countries along the Mekong River — Cambodia, Thailand and China — are challenged with natural flooding. This year, Cambodia has become a victim of flooding which has left over a hundred people dead, and thousands of households destroyed.

The flood has hit 165,619 households and affected 231,044 families, 1,053 schools, 434 pagodas, 76 health care centers, 304,469 hectares of rice fields, and 10,535 hectares of other crops. The Cambodian authorities are working to find out the exact datas of victims, households, and costing which are damaged by flood 2011.

October 15 2011

Global Handwashing Day: Changing Behaviors through Song and Dance

Logo for the Global Handwashing Day

Do you know how to properly wash your hands? Through songs and dances, people from different parts of the world are teaching others the right way to wash their hands to promote health.  October 15th 2011 is the Global Handwashing Day and with the slogan Clean Hands Save Lives, it puts the spotlight on a simple action that helps decrease child mortality due to preventable diseases.

Through Hip Hop,  Grammy Winners Chocquibtown from Colombia, tell children when to wash their hands and how to do it.

This group of young people in a rural community in Honduras also use Hip Hop to sing about the importance of handwashing in  this video aired on local television.

In this next BBC world trust ad for handwashing in Cambodia, a young boy who is excluded from childrens' games  until he washes his hands asks a very important question: what if he doesn't have soap? The answer? Just use ash.

Many different organizations are promoting handwashing in different parts of the world.  In the next videos we see the Red Cross' efforts in Haiti to promote handwashing through songs in Creole, Food for the Hungry in Mozambique shows us a handwashing station that uses a gallon plastic bottle as a water source and shares the song Mozi's Water, which lasts as long as handwashing should. Foundations Surtigas and Promigas in Colombia have empowered children to express themselves through writing, painting, poetry and singing, with some of the children composing pieces on handwashing and singing in the traditional regional style of Vallenato.

This video from Mexico, bases itself on UNICEF's 2009 Japanese Handwashing Song and names the steps so they are easier to remember: the mountain, the guitar, the motorcycle, the snake, the butterfly and “kamehameha” show that handwashing is certainly much more than just rubbing palms together!

Beyonce's Single Ladies is used as the soundtrack to go through the 5 different steps of handwashing for health practitioners, as shown in this video and dance by Public Health students in Mexico. First removing rings, watches and bracelets, then regulating water flow, wetting hands and using enough soap, washing backs, fronts, sides and tips of fingers and then drying hands with paper towels which are used to close the faucet afterwards.

Health practitioners in Iligan City, Philippines also made their own choreographed handwashing video to the beat of Jai Ho, from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack.

Let's go wash our hands!

April 12 2011

Cambodia: Songs about Facebook

Written by Sopheap Chak

The role of Facebook in facilitating protest actions has been affirmed in the Tunisia and Egypt uprisings. Governments in many countries, including China, are wary of the political activities of their citizens on Facebook. Meanwhile, in Cambodia, Facebook is not yet considered a threat by the government.

Politicians led by Prime Minister Hun Sen (who has been in power since 1985) have created their Facebook pages where they interact with Cambodian citizens and netizens.

But there is a new and interesting trend in the country: Cambodians are creating songs about Facebook.

The pop music industry has produced a number of songs related to facebook. Cambodia Khmer Magazine, though claiming not a fan of these songs, is impressed that many Cambodians are thoroughly enjoying these ‘Facebook songs.'

Below are examples of the ‘Facebook songs' uploaded on YouTube:

  1. ហ្វេសប៊ុក រំខានស្នេហ៍ (Facebok disturbs my love) 
  2. ហ្វេសប៊ុកផ្តាច់ស្នេហ៍ (Facebook ends love)
  3. ផ្តើមលេងហ្វេសប៊ុកផ្តើមមានស្នេហ៍ (Start having Facebook, love exist)
  4. មិត្តភ័ក្រ្តហ្វេសប៊ុក​អើយ! សង្សារខ្ញុំទាត់ចោល (Facebook friend! My girlfriend kicked me off)
  5. ស្រក់ទឹកភ្នែក​ពេល​លេង​ហ្វេសប៊ុក (Tear drop when surfing on Facebook)
  6. ផ្ងើទឹកភ្នែក​តាម​ហេ្វសប៊ុក (Tear sent via Facebook)
  7. ហ្វេសប៊ុកធ្វើឲ្យឈឺចាប់ (Suffered by Facebook)
  8. មួយយប់ជាមួយហ្វេសប៊ុក (A night with Facebook)
  9. ហ្វេសប៊ុកចាំស្នេហ៍ (Facebook waits love)

Khmerbird is surprised about the emergence of these songs, but somehow expressed his agreement to the meaning of some songs that blamed Facebook for the breakdown of relationships. In his article on “Effect of Facebook have been written in Cambodian song,” Khmerbird wrote:

“It seems a bit surprise when I hear the song but it might be true somehow.”

Khmerbird cites a song by Khemarak Sereymon, titled ហ្វេសប៊ុក រំខានស្នេហ៍ (Facebook disturbs my love), and explains its message:

“He stated in the song that since there’s Facebook, his girlfriend seems not to take care of him like before. He felt like he is totally abandoned. His girlfriend spent her time to connect with different people via Facebook. This of course could cause a serious effect in the relationship.”

In Cambodia, there are only about 250,000 Facebook users accounting for 1.73% penetration rate in the country, according to But with politicians endorsing Facebook and artists creating songs about the popular social networking site, Facebook would definitely attract more users in Cambodia.

November 29 2010

Cambodia: Lessons from the Water Festival stampede

By Sopheap Chak

During this time of the year in previous years, Cambodians were sharing holiday stories and how they happily participated in the Water Festival celebrations. But not today. Cambodians are still mourning the death of 347 people in the stampede tragedy which happened last week at Koh Pich Bridge.

Mainstream media channels and even online social network tools have been used to send news updates, to call for support, and to express condolence to families of the victims. Top government officials, civil society organizations, youth networks and individuals joined together and launched numerous initiatives to help those who are recovering in the hospitals and to support the victims’ family members.

While there were controversial issues like how government should be accountable for its failure to protect and ensure the people's safety, a number of individuals consider the tragedy as an opportunity to learn rather than focus on blame finding.

A Cambodian facebook user, Sreng Sopheap, from Ratanakiri, northeastern part of Cambodia says:

It is not to look for someone to blame but to find ways to heal the internal broken heart. A lesson to be learnt, but should not be blamed…

Another facebooker, Samsokrith Chhaly, identified as an active volunteer member of the organizing committee of the 2010 Barcamp Phnom Penh, urges the public to think of those who died during the Water Festival as heroes:

Let's not think of them as “unfortunate victims”… but think of them as “accidental heroes.” Their death give us priceless lesson…

This incident should be an adequate reason for the government to establish an effective risk management system in the country. A number of online users raised good suggestions.

Sophary Noy, a human rights worker, lists her recommendations through her facebook:

With death toll of innocent ppl @KohPich during dis festival, de gov't shld provide more protective arrangements such as install 1st aid booth in every 200-300m distance & reserve clear line 4 ambulance route. Any death is costly & a waste 4 de nation. With adaptation & correction, we can avoid unnecessary death by de next 5yrs. Bit by bit we can change de culture of blaming & re-activate our culture of responsibility

Similarly, Norbert Klein, founder of The Mirror, also offered some suggestions and reminders to the government on disaster management:

Sad for what happened with 339 persons accounted to be dead (and probably more to be added), and concern whether this will lead to sharp analysis of the reasons - and that it may lead to fundamental changes on how to plan safety. Safety for big crowds, but also for the many new high rise buildings going up, where the fire-fighting forces cannot reach with present equipment much higher than their ladders.

In an interview with Radio Free Asia, tourism expert Ouk Vanna cited the lack of professionalism in public event management and the lack of risk management system in Cambodia.

[…] ការ​រៀប​គម្រោង​មេ ដើម្បី​ការពារ​ហានិភ័យ​ឲ្យ​បាន​ខ្ពស់​បំផុត គួរ​អនុលោម​​តាម​និយាម​អន្តជាតិ ដូចជា​សិក្សា​ភាព​ហានិភ័យ​លើ​ទីតាំង​ឲ្យ​បាន​សុក្រឹត រៀបចំ​កម្លាំង​ការពារ​សង្គ្រោះ​ឲ្យ​សមាមាត្រ​ទៅ​នឹង​ចំនួន​មនុស្ស​ដើរ​ កម្សាន្ត ឬ​ចំនួន​អ្នក​ទេសចរ ហ្វឹកហ្វឺន​ជំនាញ​បច្ចេកទេស​ដល់​កម្លាំង​សន្តិសុខ​លើ​ផ្នែក​នីមួយៗ និង​រៀបចំ​ក្រុម​បម្រុង​ដើម្បី​បង្ការ និង​សង្គ្រោះ​ពេល​មាន​ហានិភ័យ​ដែល​អាច​កើត​ឡើង​ជាយថាហេតុ​នៅ​នឹង​កន្លែង រៀប​ចំ​ស្លាក​សញ្ញា​បង្ហាញ​ផ្លូវ​ថ្មើរ​ជើង ត្រួត​ពិនិត្យ​ចរន្ត​មនុស្ស​ជា​ប្រចាំ​តាំង​ពី​ដើម​ដល់​ចប់​កម្មវិធី។[…]

[…] A master plan for risk management should be complied to international standards that include the detail study on the risk at the location where event will be organized; group preparation to save public should be compatible to the number of people or tourists; skill training and advanced preparation for security guards and protection groups when risk may occur in such public events; gate-way logo placement so that public can be aware where to go, and closely track the movement of the people from the beginning to the end of the event[…]

Though the government, with support from mainstream media, was quick to act and help the victims and their family members by shouldering the cost of hospitalization, transportation of dead bodies, and mourning ceremony, there are still reports of extortion from public officials who are assisting the victims. There is also a visible lack of health infrastructure to accommodate such huge inflow of victims at the same time. Obviously, there are still questions about government responsibility, fund management to directly benefit the victims, and disaster management reforms.

September 10 2010

Asia: Videos on Drug Abuse and Detention Centers

By Juliana Rincón Parra

image from HCLU video

Drug abuse detention centers in Asia are in the spotlight. Although some Asian drug addicts go in voluntarily to kick their habit, in some places, this has led to routine human rights abuses where people off the street are locked up with no choice, tortured, raped, forced to work for free and denied basic comforts.

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union has released Abuse in the Name of Treatment,  a new video showing the situation of people sent into some compulsory drug detention centers in Asia. Some are sent there by family or walk themselves in to kick their drug habit, but in some other places, military police routinely round up anyone they consider “deviant”.  So street children, sex workers and drug users are sent to these camps with no right to appeal. Adding insult to injury,  some of these camps were built with money sent by Western governments, so the HCLU is calling viewers to action:

One of the centers – Koh Kor – was closed thanks to human rights advocacy but there are still too many in operation. HCLU, along with international organizations such as UNAIDS or UNODC, is calling for the closure of these camps. We hope after watching our new movie more people will join us and put pressure on these governments to stop the abuse in the name of drug treatment.

Current TV's Vanguard released web episodes discussing the subject of drug addictions, Meth production and consumption in Cambodia and visited Korsang, a harm reduction center created as an alternative to the abuses happening in government run drug detainment centers.

Also in Cambodia, students at the University of Puthisastra made a two part video for the UPSTV showing their perspective on why youth get involved with drugs in the first place:

At the end of the Second part, Kosal returns from his 5 year prison sentences a changed man, willing to right his wrongs and have a fresh start. Their perspective of how a drug addict is sent to a place where he or she can genuinely get better should become a reality, because it shouldn't take a miracle.

To read more about the human rights abuses happening in detention centers in Asia, you can read the Human Rights Watch reports on drug rehab centers on Where Darkness Knows no Limits and An Unbreakable Cycle in China and on Skin on the Wire in Cambodia .

August 02 2010

Cambodia: Mixed views on Duch Verdict

By Sopheap Chak

More than 30 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge Regime in Cambodia, the first guilty verdict was handed out last 26 July 2010 by the Trial Chamber of The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)-popularly known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. It was the conviction of Kaing Guek Eav aka Duch, one of four people including Nuon Chea aka Brother Number Two, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith (aka Khmer Rouge First Lady) and Khieu Samphan who have been brought to court for genocide, crime against humanity and other war crimes.

Duch, Tuol Sleng prison chief, was sentenced to 35 years in prison; however, it was reduced to 19 years since he has been in detention in the past 16 years including the illegal detention for five years ordered by the military court in 1999. This verdict sparked mixed reactions from various institutions and individuals particularly those who suffered during the Khmer Rouge period. These reactions can be categorized into three groups.

First, a group of people who are looking forward to the outcome of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal welcomes this verdict by highlighting the event as a historical moment for Cambodia especially to human rights victims. Sovachana Pou, a volunteer teacher and blogger who attended the trial session, immediately wrote a post sharing his feelings:

In the court chamber, I personally witnessed the hybrid justice proceeding live with more than 500 people, most of them are victims. It was a moving experience and historic event for all the victims to wait more than 30 years to finally having some sort of justice.

On one hand, Sophal Ear, a survivor of the genocide and who once gave a remarkable talk for TED on ‘escaping the Khmer Rouge, in February 2009 in Long Beach, California, remembered the words of his mother when the Duch Verdict was announced:

On this momentous occasion, I'd like to step back by reflecting upon and give voice to one victim of the Khmer Rouge: my late mother, Cam Youk Lim […] She didn't live to see this day, but no matter, for her justice would inevitably be rendered the Buddhist way. She decided long ago the Khmer Rouge were Karmic pestilence who would pay the price for their crimes, if not in this lifetime, then in their next life.

Another group of reaction refers to those who are disappointed with the verdict claiming that the sentence is too light for a criminal who supervised the execution of more than 14,000 people. In a letter titled “ECCC brought no fairness to the people of Cambodia” to editor of Phnom Penh Post, Jeffrey Serey Hola highlighted the a press statement of Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR). While CCHR welcomes the reduction of Duch's prison sentence as a good model for domestic courts whose detention practices remain a serious concern, Jeffrey questioned the “light” sentence if the intent is to provide justice to victims. The demand is at least a life sentence for Duch while the death penalty is not legalized in Cambodia.

It is understandable that many wanted him to face the death penalty, even though capital punishment is illegal in Cambodia. The reduced sentence of 19 years for Duch is too lenient for such a vicious mass murder. Duch should at least serve a life sentence […] For those who have lived and experienced such horrors, how could this sentence ever be considered justice? For them, it is just a slap on the wrist. Justice was not served for the people of Cambodia.

This sentiment is similarly shared by Bernard Krisher, chairman of American Assistance for Cambodia and publisher of a local foreign newspaper named Cambodia Daily. Writing from Tokyo, he said that the tribunal sentence is too light and demanded that Duch should be hanged.

As a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jewish people in the 1930s where many of my relatives, including a number of my father's siblings, perished in Hitler's gas chambers, I followed the Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunals and was disappointed at the relatively light sentence given to the German and Japanese war criminals at their war crime trials, I feel that Duch should have been hanged[…]

On the other hand, there is another group which neither supports the Khmer Rouge Tribunal nor the Duch verdict. In an interview with BBC, two Cambodian survivors pointed out the credibility problem of the UN-backed tribunal given the fact that it was established only to make good impression in the international community.

Both want to see the top leaders sentenced, they don't care much about punishment for minions like Duch, who would have been killed himself had he not followed orders from above.

Interestingly, even government ministers shared contrasting views on the Duch verdict. While Cambodia's Information Minister Khieu Kanharith is pleased with the verdict, the Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong is disappointed with the light sentence on Duch.

Khieu Kanharith, in an interview by Radio VOA Khmer Service, said:

«វា​បាន​បង្ហាញ​ថា​ ទីមួយ​គឺការ​ប្តេជ្ញា​ចិត្ត​របស់​រាជ​រដ្ឋាភិបាល​កម្ពុជា ក្នុង​ការ​ស្វែងរក​យុត្តិធម៌​ជូន​ប្រជា​ពលរដ្ឋ​ខ្មែរ ​និង​ទីពីរ​ ​វាបាន​បង្ហាញ​អំពី​កម្រិត​ផ្នែក​វិជ្ជាជីវៈ​របស់​អង្គ​ចៅក្រម​របស់​យើង​ ក្នុងការ​ស្វែងរក​យុត្តិធម៌​ជូន​ប្រជាពល​រដ្ឋខ្មែរ»។

Firstly it indicate the government commitment in searching for justice for Cambodians and secondly this show the professionalism of the chambers.

On the other hand, Hor Nam Hong interviewed by Radio Free Asia, expressed his personal statement:

«ដោយសារ​នេះ​ជា​ភារកិច្ច​របស់​តុលាការ​ខ្មែរ​ក្រហម រាជ​រដ្ឋាភិបាល​មិន​មាន​ជំហរ​អី​ទេ។ យោបល់​ផ្ទាល់​របស់​ខ្ញុំ ខ្ញុំ​ឃើញ​ថា វា​មិន​សមរម្យ បើ​ប្រៀបធៀប​ទៅ​នឹង​ប្រជាជន​កម្ពុជា​ស្លាប់​ជិត ៣​លាន​នាក់។ ប្រជាជន​កម្ពុជា​ដែល​គេ​យក​ទៅ​ធ្វើ​ទារុណកម្ម​នៅ​ទួលស្លែង ហើយ​សម្លាប់​នៅ​ជើងឯក​រាប់​សែន​នាក់​នេះ។ កាត់​ទោស​នេះ​ហាក់​ដូច​ជា​ស្រាល មិន​សម​នឹង​ចំនួន​ប្រជាជន​កម្ពុជា​ដែល​បាន​ស្លាប់»

Because this is the work of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, the government has no position (on this matter). My personal position is that it is not appropriate, especially if we compare it to the nearly 3 million Cambodians who had died. Hundreds of thousands of Khmer people have been tortured at Tuol Sleng and then executed at Cheung Ek (Killing Fields). This sentence seems a bit light, not comparable to the number of people who have been killed. translated by Khmerization.

April 04 2010

Cambodia: Campaign Against Wearing of Short Skirts

Around 100 people including teachers and students held a rally on Sunday March 28 in an effort to stop female students from wearing short skirts. The campaign was expected to have more participants if its original plan to march through the streets of Phnom Penh was approved by the City Hall. Still, the campaign organizer, Seang Bunheang, Director of Khmer Teachers' Association reportedly applauded this gathering as a success in sending the message of urging the Ministry of Education, academic institutions, teachers, female students and their parents to stop female students from wearing short skirts. This appeal is hoped to preserve Khmer Culture and discourage female students from vigorously adapting western culture:

“I had the idea to organise the campaign because I want to improve Khmer culture [and retain the culture] that we had many years ago – some Khmer women change their manner by copying other cultures and do things such as wearing short skirts or sexy clothes in schools and public places. That can destroy our culture,” says Seang Bunheang as quoted from Phnom Penh Post.

Acknowledging the the move could be seen as an undue pressure on women, the organizer repeatedly claimed it is justified for promoting Khmer culture.

I don’t force [women] from wearing short skirts, but I want to take care and improve our Khmer culture, “We have to take care in order for other countries not to look down on us.”

Seemingly, this campaign has been welcomed by major ministries, Cambodian Independent Teachers' Association, and some students. For example, there is support from Pov Sam An, deputy director of the Ministry's Informal Education System Department who reportedly agrees that female students should not wear short skirts. He also cited the existing mandatory rule instructing female students to wear only long skirts.

“All female students have to wear their skirts under the knees in school, and it is good that the Khmer Teachers’ Association campaign will remind people of this, I cannot accept that some female students in private or state schools wear such short skirts to school,” said Pov Sam An.

Even the Secretary of State of the Ministry of Women's Affairs, San Arun, also welcomed the rally by sharing a similar opinion about the need to preserve Khmer culture. She allegedly claimed that “the trend towards shorter skirts was part of an ill-advised attempt to copy other cultures – a move she suggested could destroy Khmer culture if left unchecked.” Interestingly, she linked the short skirt as motivation for men to rape:

“Wearing short skirts and sexy clothes is a reason to cause rape cases to occur because all men, when they see white skin, they feel like having sex with them.”

This provocative statement has caught the attention of a prominent blogher Kounila Keo who posted this on her facebook page, which later sparked several comments. Here is an interesting remark by a commentator:

“This is like saying women in the Middle East who walk outside of the places they're allowed to, are asking to be raped. I think the Secretary is perpetuating a negative cultural attitude between genders. I'm sorry but women and short skirts are NOT the problem…I find that the leaders in Cambodia are part of the problem. If they want to positively change attitudes of the people, they need to start providing an avenue to discuss about these gender issues–not condemn those who are ultimately in ‘ownership' of their bodies.”

This idea is shared by Sim Socheata who sent a letter to Phnom Penh Post's editor, “Don't blame women for men's lack of self control”:

“We are witnessing that women and girls are blamed for being raped and sexually harassed for the kind of place they decide to go, the kind of dresses they decide to wear and the length of those dresses. Instead of calling for women to stop wearing short skirts, the Khmer Teachers Association could have marched against male perpetrators who rape women and girls, men who commit violence in the family, male teachers who sexually harass their students.”

While majority of those who commented on Kounila's facebook page believe that wearing short skirts is not the problem, Chanroeun Pa who also joined this debate wrote about the link between cultural integration and safety of women:

I don't completely agree with the secretary of the MoWA, and I don't really support the school girls to wear short skirt either. It is obvious that wearing short skirt is a Western style. In fact, there is nothing wrong with wearing the short skirt for the school girls in general. Instead it is an art or beauty of dressing for girl. But wearing short skirt which is too short in an inappropriate way and in wrong place is a great danger for the person herself. And therefore, this requires a consideration about the different cultural values between Cambodian culture and the West. We have to accept that new culture which emerges from the interaction with other culture is sometimes overwhelming. And the ground somehow is suitable for the seed to grow well. We will, should not ignore the sensitivity of sexual taboo in Cambodian society either. There is a saying about choice of cultural adoption, “You can either adjust your head to fit your hat, or adjust your hat to fit your head.”

Meanwhile, another blogger, Mean Lux is not in favor of the anti-short skirt campaign and issues this warning:

For protesters against wearing short skirt, facebook maybe next in their list to be banned to preserve the in-their-view Khmer tradition.

As expected, this campaign has received much attention. The debate is still ongoing with another social activist Chhay Sophal, writer for Open Institute, wrote “ទស្សនៈ​ពី​ការ​ស្លៀកពាក់​បញ្ចេញ​សាច់”, “View on Skimpy Dresses.” He randomly interviewed young females in the capital and two other provinces to survey their opinion on the campaign. Though many respondents agreed that the ban on wearing short skirts is viable for academic institutions, they think it should not be applied in public spaces. Strikingly, the belief that wearing short skirts induces rape cases surprises the respondents:

“កាល​ពី​មិន​ទាន់​មាន​ការ​ស្លៀក​ពាក់​ខ្លី​បែប​នេះ​កាល​ពី​បណ្ដា​ឆ្នាំ​មុនៗ និង​ជំនាន់​មុនៗ តើ​មិន​មាន​​ករណី​ការ​ចាប់​រំលោភ​សេពសន្ថវៈ​មែន​ទេ​ឬ​អី ហើយ​តើ​បុរស​ៗ​ពិត​ជា​មិន​មាន​អារម្មណ៍​ចង់​រួម​ភេទ​មែន​ដែរ​ឬ​អត់ បើ​ពួកគេ​មិន​បាន​ឃើញ​សាច់​ស​ខ្ចី​របស់​នារីៗ​នោះ? នារី​វ័យ​ក្មេងៗ​ទាំង​នោះ​បាន​សំណូមពរ​ថា មនុស្ស​ជំនាន់​មុន​មិន​ត្រូវ​បន្ទោស​មនុស្ស​ជំនាន់​ក្រោយ​ឡើយ ព្រោះ​សម័យ​កាល និង​ការ​វិវត្ត​វា​ពិតជា​ខុស​គ្នា​ពី​ជំនាន់​មួយ​ទៅ​ជំនាន់​មួយ។”

“Were rape cases avoided in the past when there were no skimpy outfits? Will men have no sex feelings if the girls would not wear short skirts? The girls request the elders to accept the reality of social evolutions instead of blaming their acts”

Sophal highlighted that the respondents also reflected on the basic rights and freedom of individuals as guaranteed by the Constitution and international rights conventions. Further, the respondents appealed to the government to improve the rule of law and take serious intervention for social security rather than focusing on the short skirt matter:

សេចក្ដី​ថ្លៃថ្នូរ​របស់​ជាតិ​មួយ​គឺ​ត្រូវតែ​ទប់ស្កាត់​ការ​ជួញ​ដូរ​មនុស្ស និង​ការ​ជួញដូរ​គ្រឿងញៀន ការ​លុបបំបាត់​ទេសចរណ៍​ផ្លូវ​ភេទ ការ​លុបបំបាត់​ការ​កេង​ប្រវ័ញ្ច​លើ​ស្ត្រី និង​ត្រូវ​តែ​គោរព​សិទ្ធិ​ស្ត្រី ហើយ​ផ្ដល់​តួនាទី​ស្ត្រី​នៅ​ក្នុង​សង្គម​ប្រកប​ដោយ​សមភាព​យេនឌ័រ ការ​ផ្ដល់​សេវា​សាធារណៈ​ និង​ហេដ្ឋារចនាសម្ព័ន្ធ​សង្គម​ឲ្យបាន​គ្រប់គ្រាន់​ដល់​ពលរដ្ឋ ការ​បង្កើន​ការងារ​ឲ្យ​មនុស្ស​ធ្វើ ត្រូវ​មាន​ការ​អភិវឌ្ឍ​ទាំង​នៅ​ទីក្រុង​និង​នៅ​ជនបទ មិន​មាន​អំពើ​ពុក​រលួយ​ជា​ប្រព័ន្ធ ត្រូវ​មាន​តម្លាភាព និង​មាន​យុត្តិធម៌​សង្គម​ជាដើម។

In order to maintain the dignity of the state, there must be measures to prevent human trafficking, drug, sex tourism, and exploitation on women; importantly, there must be respect on women's rights together with gender mainstreaming in order that gender equity is feasible. Also, there must be sufficient social services and infrastructure to all in addition to the increase of employment and balanced development in the urban and rural area where there is no systematic corruption or simply transparency and justice must be ensured.

Regardless of the mixed views on this campaign, the trend is observably and likely to target girls rather than the main violators. Earlier there was also an attempt by the state to impose a girl curfew - which was justified by claiming that it would promote safety of women against being harmed at nightclubs or other entertainment areas. Groups asserted that it is better to strengthen the rule of law and restrictive policies on the nightclub itself.

March 08 2010

First Cambodian Women Web Portal

The first ever women web portal in Cambodia was one of the women programs initiated by the Open Institute in 2006 which aimed to promote gender equality in a society where women can exercise their rights and  be empowered to participate in the economic and sociopolitical spheres. This women web portal attempts to bring women issues and their rights empowerment in the global discussion through the use of three Information Communication Technology (ICT) tools: Blog, Online Forum, Gender Mailing List.

Though the internet penetration in Cambodia is still low of which overall usage figure in 2009 survey is 9.8 percent and up to 18.8 percent in the capital, the portal is trying to make information available in Khmer language and creating platforms where women from various backgrounds ranging from commune council members, government officials, organization's representatives, teachers, students, and the youths in general can get their voices heard.

Sokhayouk Prak, Women Program's Coordinator and also active blogher whose blog aims to raise awareness on women rights gives a comprehensive introduction about the women web portal:

វិបផតថល​ស្ដី​អំពី​ស្ត្រី  គឺ​ជា​បណ្ដុំ​ព័ត៌មាន​​អេឡិចត្រូនិក ​​ជា​ភាសា​ខ្មែរ​ដ៏​សម្បូរ​បែប​​​ ទាក់ទង​នឹង​ឯកសារ​ច្បាប់ សិទ្ធិ យេនឌ័រ បច្ចេកវិទ្យា គមនាគមន៍ ព័ត៌មានវិទ្យា ​​សកម្មភាព និង​ភាព​ជោគជ័យ​​នានា​របស់​បណ្ដាញ/​អង្គការ​ស្ត្រី និង ឯកសារ​ជា​ច្រើន​ទៀត​ទាក់ទង​នឹង​សេដ្ឋកិច្ច និង​ការ​អភិវឌ្ឍន៍។

វិបផតថល​ស្ដី​អំពី​ស្ត្រី​​ គឺ​ជា​វិបផតថល​ជា​ភាសា​ខ្មែរ​ស្ដី​អំពី​ស្ត្រី​មុន​គេ​បង្អស់​ដែល​​ត្រូវ​ បាន​បង្កើត​ឡើង​ និង​បង្ហោះ​ជា​ផ្លូវការ​នៅ​ខែ​តុលា ឆ្នាំ ២០០៧ ​ក្នុង​គោលបំណង ផ្សព្វផ្សាយ​ព័ត៌មាន​ទាក់​ទង​ស្ត្រី​និង​សិទ្ធិ និង​សម្របសម្រួល​ការ​ប្រាស្រ័យ​ទាក់ទង​​នានា​។

Women Web Portal is  the first women portal made available in Khmer language with various documents related to applicable laws,  rights,  gender issues, ICT, social and economic development. This portal officially launched in October 2007 aims to provide spaces of women related issues and platform of discussion for the common goal of gender equality in Cambodia.

From its 2009 report, there are graphs showing the majority of shared content portion and the dramatic increase of visitors which indicate the great participation of their targets.

graph showing the portal's information content

graph showing the portal's information content

The increasing trend of web visitors

The increasing trend of web visitors

Via e-mail interview with Manavy Chim, Open Institute's Executive Director who previously spent more than 20 years working with the Ministry of Foreign Affair and International Cooperation and later joined the civil society with the hope for a greater liberty to work with local people to solve various social problems, emphasizes the great benefit of ICT in women empowerment.

Question: Why did you personally become involved in this women project?

Manavy: I want to explore more about women problem and to see what I can do to be of help. Information on legal document and document related to women rights in Khmer that can help women with problem or without problem is not easy to find. Women are facing many problems including violence against women (rape, domestic violence, human trafficking) poverty, and discrimination.

But women dare not to speak out. It is good that we provide women information they need, spaces and opportunities for women to break silence and speak out , to share with us what do they think about themselves and their future, and what is their concern. Hope this contribute to women life’ satisfactory.

Q. What have been the results?

Manavy: The Women web portal, the first and a single web portal in Khmer language in Cambodia that provides people a larger amount of information on gender, women rights and development issues. The portal was ranked by the Google Page Rank 5/10 among other web sites around the world, as a web site with meaningful, useful information and attractive to visitors. The women web portal gets more than 2000 unique visitors per day and there are more than 10000 pageviews since it was launched on late 2007.

This is not only a channel for information sharing but also provides an open space for discussion to address their concern, and also as space for women organizations to share about their organizations. There are communication tool made available through the women web portal such as blog and online forum. Take Back The Tech (TBTT) is one among an attractive way of information sharing on violence against women among young people by using and controlling technology.

The women program does not work alone, but we cooperate with the Association of Progressive Communication (APC), an international organization pioneering the use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) for social justice that has more than 100 member organizations around the world. We work together on the MDG3 ( Millennium Development Goals) project on strengthening the strategic use of ICT by women to combat violence against women (VAW) in which involve women from  12 countries in the regions of Asia, Africa and America Latin.

Meanwhile, very good collaboration has been made through an MOU between the Open Institute and the Ministry of Women Affairs signed on July 2009. Through the program, the Ministry and the Open Institute has started coordinating government and civil society on the response to Violence Against Women, by creating forum for the discussion and coordination of the implementation of the National Action Plan to Prevent Violence on Women, which will meet several times to attempt to create a joint strategy. These actions will be supported by all the means of dissemination of the Ministry and the Open Institute, which include websites, bulletins, radio, a Guidebook for Women, and public meetings.

Q. What are the biggest obstacles to your success?

Manavy: ICT is new thing to many Cambodian people, particularly women. To promote the use of ICT by women is not yet in the agenda of the government, in most of the NGOs and of the private sectors. While world wide, women organizations and network are using online resources, web sites, to share experiences, to mobilize support for specific actions and develop global action strategies, not many Cambodian women are aware of the use of ICT. At the same time, ICT use in general, much less awareness of how ICT can be strategically used to combat VAW, is very limited in Cambodia.

Q. How do you plan on overcoming these obstacles?

Manavy: We came up with a strategic planning that involves NGOs, government institution and private sector in a systematical way. This will be collaboration and a collective solution that involve experts from our partners (the APC and MDG3 project) from other countries. This is a series of actions including capacity building to women organizations and relevant institutions both government and NGOs on ICT global knowledge and skills. The movement will be linked to the consultation meetings to discuss the interaction between VAW&ICT, the participation and how ICT can be used in the implementation of the National Action Plan to Prevent VAW.

This will help women organizations and the government to identify the issues and the need of using ICT for a better status of women. Recommendation for the regulation/policy supportive for the use of ICT for women empowerment and to enhance women rights will be made during the meetings.

Skill on e-advocacy also will be provided to our target group through the trainings. The training will guide participants on how to use our women web portal and how to get benefit from advance technology. Small grant will be made available to support the project on the use of ICT to combat VAW.

Q. What is your message to the public?

Manavy: It is imperative that women are able to draw on available resources to combat VAW. Access to ICT can be seen as central issue concerning empowerment of women. Women should be empowered by enhancing their skills, knowledge and access to information technology. Without knowledge provided to women, any attempt to promote the use of ICT by women in Cambodia would be incomplete. Key players in the society including the government, the private sector and NGOs should pay more attention on promoting and encouraging women to use and control ICT.

This should be started from education sector which provide ICT’s knowledge and skills, encourage female student take part in computer science study, ensure for ICT market and employment and the involvement of women at decision making level in such employment.  The lower price of internet access is also one among other factors to encourage people to use it.

Women should always make themselves fresh in relation to capacity building, well equipped to adopt with the rapid change of globalization and the ICT revolution, if not women will be kept behind such change.

February 14 2010

Cambodia: Valentine's Day Sparks Controversy

Celebrating Valentine's Day is relatively a recent phenomenon in Cambodia. It was only in the past decade when Valentine's Day was celebrated in the country. Though Valentine's Day has gained much popularity among the younger generation, its definition and practice remain controversial. They spark an alarming attention especially on the wrong practice associated with this global occasion.

Many writers regret that the meaning of Valentine's Day has been misinterpreted. Chhay Sophal, in his article on ” ប្រយ័ត្ន​ទិវា វ៉ាឡិនថាញដេ ក្លាយ​ជា​ទិវា​ស្នេហ៍កម្មជា​ទិវា​នៃ​ក្តី​ស្រឡាញ់” [Be Warned of Valentine's Day to Become a Regrettable Eve], emphasized that the youth have confusingly transformed the meaning of Valentine's day:

ដោយ​ឡែក​នៅ​កម្ពុជា ​វប្បធម៌​នេះ​ក៏​មាន​ប្រជាប្រិយ​ផង​ដែរ​ចាប់តាំង​ពី​ឆ្នាំ ២០០០ មក​ពិសេស​ក្នុង​ចំណោម​យុវវ័យ។ អ្វី​ដែល​គួរ​ឲ្យ​កត់​សំគាល់ គឺពួក​យុវវ័យ ​មួយ​ចំនួន​បាន​យក​អត្ថន័យ​នៃ​ទិវា​នេះ​ទៅ​ជា​ទិវា​មួយ​សម្រាប់​គូស្នេហ៍​ទៅ​វិញ ដោយ​បក​ប្រែពាក្យ វ៉ាឡិនថាញ ដេ (valentine day) ថា​ជា​ទិវា​សង្សារ​ទៅវិញ ដែល​ធ្វើ​ឲ្យ​ពួក​យុវវ័យ​ខ្មែរ​យល់​ខុស​វក់​នឹង​សង្សារ មិន​បាន​គិត​ពី​មិត្តភក្កិ​ដទៃ ពិសេស​ឪពុក​ម្តាយ​បង​ប្អូន​របស់​ខ្លួន។

Valentine's Day has become popular among young generations in Cambodia since 2000. Strikingly, some young people have wrongly defined this Valentine's Day as the “Eve for Lovers” instead of “Eve for Love” with the latter referring to love for parents, relatives and friends in general.

Sophal also highlighted the negative impact resulting from the misinterpretation of Valentine's Day. This includes sexual misconduct among young lovers, which is a violation of Cambodian culture, especially for unmarried couples. Another impact is the possible harm on the reproductive health of young women.

ជា​ការ​ពិត យើង​មិន​ទោមនស្ស​នឹង​ក្តីស្រឡាញ់​របស់​យុវវ័យ​នោះ​ទេ ប៉ុន្តែ​អ្វី​ដែល​យើង​ព្រួយបារម្ភ​នោះ​គឺ​ស្រ្តី​វ័យ​ក្មេង​អាច​បាត់បង់​កិត្តិយស អាសោច​កេរ្តិ៍ដោយ​តែ​បាត់​បង់​ភាព​បរិសុទ្ធ។ ជាង​នេះ​ទៅ​ទៀត ពួកគេ​អាច​ប្រឈម​នឹង​ការ​មាន​ផ្ទៃពោះ​ដោយ​ចៃដន្យ ប្រសិន​បើ​ការ​រួមភេទ​ជា​មួយ​បុរស​ជាសង្សារ​នោះ​មិន​បាន​ប្រើប្រាស់​ស្រោម​អនាម័យ​ឲ្យ​បាន​ត្រឹមត្រូវ ហើយ​ការ​មាន​ផ្ទៃ​ពោះ​នេះ​គឺ​ឈាន​ទៅ​ធ្វើ​ការ​រំលូត​កូន ដែល​ប្រការ​នេះ​ពិត​ជា​ធ្វើ​ឲ្យ​ស្រ្តី​វ័យ​ក្មេង​ប្រឈម​នឹង​បញ្ហា​សុខភាព​បន្តពូជ​ទៅ​ពេល​អនាគត។

Though we do not mind about the youth's love affairs, we are much concerned about young women whose dignity will be damaged given the fact of their lost virginity. Even worse is that they may be pregnant and it may lead to abortion. This will be harmful to women reproductive health.

Sophal further emphasized that young women are more prone to HIV/AIDS  if their sexual partners do not use condoms. They can also be victimized by pornography scandals that may jeopardize their future and the reputation of their family. Thus Sophal warns young women to be careful not to fall into the love trap during this Valentine's Day. He advised that the youth will be in a better position to celebrate this occasion with their beloved parents, relatives or friends in a proper manner.

These observations have been shared by Vutha Morn who questioned the link of culture identity and cultural preservation while Sidaroth Kong wrote in her Facebook status that “Valentine's Day and Controversy Khmer Culture: Is sleeping with your partner the only way to show that you love him?”

According the a cross-sectional research on “Love and Sexual Relationship: Experiences and Plans of Middle Class Young People Regarding the Upcoming Valentine's Day In Phnom Penh in 2009″ done by Soprach Tong, who surveyed 458 youths aging from 15 to 24, majority of them do not understand the background of Valentine’s Day. Asked if the middle class young people in Phnom Penh plan to be sexually active on the upcoming Valentine’s Day, Soprach found that:

“In the results, 12.4 percent of all respondents answered that they expect to be able to have sex on the upcoming Valentine's Day, and more than 14.3 percent of young people in a couple answered that they expect to be able to have sex with their sweethearts on that day too, and a few couples plan not to use a condom. Meanwhile, more than a third (39.5%) of the young people in a couple surveyed (n=38) stated that it will be the first time for them to have sexual intercourse. And the other two thirds (66.6%) of young males in couple (n=25) will pressure or force their girlfriend on having sex using many devices, if they do not agree. And at least seven percent of young males who answered that they expect to be able to have sex are open to being involved in Bauk [Gang rape, a slang term occurs after one (or two) youth(s) negotiate a price with a sex worker, or solicit a woman’s affection and arrange a proposed destination for sexual intercourse. Then the woman is taken to a hotel or guest-house, where numerous other young men are waiting, or will soon arrive] on the upcoming Valentine’s Day”

From this result, the author urged for attention on sexual consent, sexual reproductive health and HIV/AIDS programs which target young people in the urban areas of Cambodia.

Given these alarming facts and concerns, the Cambodian Ministry of Women's Affairs, initiated five-minute spots educating the teenagers about the “meaning of the Valentine's day” in order that the young will be encouraged to expresses their love to family first, followed by teachers and then friends. This educational spot which aims to warn Cambodian teenagers against engaging in promiscuous sex has been welcomed by majority of students, teachers, and bloggers.

February 11 2010

Cambodia: Mixed Views on Freedom of Expression

Surya Subedi, the human rights envoy of the United Nations to Cambodia noted the progress of human rights issues in the country during his second visit in January 2010. Asked by reporters following his talk with Prime Minister Hun Sen, Subedi highlighted the general picture of human rights situation in Cambodia:

“We discussed a wide range of human rights issues. We have been making progress on freedom of expression and the NGO law, land evictions and the cooperation between civil society and the government.”

Unlike his predecessors who were harshly criticized by the Cambodian government, Subedi is apparently more acceptable to government officials including Om Yentieng, a top adviser to Hun Sen and the chief of government's human rights committee, who urged UN officials not to continue the “old way” of criticizing the Cambodian government on human rights issue. Om Yentieng reportedly claimed that the government is working hard to solve and improve the human rights situation in Cambodia. He offered an interesting notion on human rights situation in Cambodia by saying:

ប្រទេស​កម្ពុជា​មិន​មែន​ជា​ឋាននរក​ ហើយ​កម្ពុជា​ក៏​មិន​ទាន់​ក្លាយ​ជា​ឋាន​សួគ៌​មួយ​នៃ​សិទ្ធិ​មនុស្ស​នោះ​ដែរ។

“We are not a hell [like UN reports have mentioned] and we have not yet become a heaven of human rights.”

However, a human rights organization, ADHOC, recently released its 2009 report on “Human Rights Situation” by marking the year 2009 as the year when restriction on the freedom of expression increased. The usual targets were politicians and activists who are critical to the government. The report noted that the sorry state of freedom of expression in 2009 is comparable to 2005 when a number of human rights activists were arrested.

“At least twenty-two complaints were filed by government officials against dissident politicians and civil organization representatives, with an additional twenty-five complaints against journalists. This year, the situation can be compared to 2005; although there has been a slight improvement in relation to sentencing in defamation cases. No one who has been accused of defamation charges has been jailed and the accused of other charges have been given more chances to escape overseas comparing to 2005. Notably, it has become a tendency to restrict this freedom right after the general elections and the formation of a new government. With new elections looming, the situation has been loosen. We expect, this time, similar tendency would be repeated.”

The report raised the alarm on the increasing number of threats against human rights defenders over the past three years. Compared to 2008 when 164 prosecutions were conducted, the figure jumped dramatically in 2009 when 235 human rights defenders were charged. Of this 2009 figure, 147 were arrested with 89 granted bails and 58 remained in custody while the remaining 88 have managed to escape questionable arrest warrants. ADHOC also raised additional concern given the fact that many threats against human rights defenders are channeled through the courts. This trend is similar to the charges against journalists who were sued for defamation, misinformation and related issues.

Coincidentally, on the same day of the news release of ADHOC's report, an activist from the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights reportedly appealed for intervention against an alleged death threat issued by members of an army unit after he took a photograph of soldiers cutting down fruit trees on a disputed land in Chumkiri district of Kampot Province.

This concern is not only raised by human rights institutions and activists, but also discussed in the blogosphere. Morn Vutha, following the chat with a student journalist, was asked an ordinary but crucial question: Are you afraid of threat warning?

“It is because that I talked more about corruption, bribery and extortion. Therefore, she asked me if I am afraid of writing articles about these issues.”

Vutha , who proclaimed his dream to own a personal blog where he can voice his opinion and disseminate news to friends, posted his reply to the question by highlighting the importance of freedom of expression through blogging.

“What I wrote about is the true things happening in the current society. I cannot shut up my mouth. I just want to share the real issues to all of you and other readers over the world […] The truth is the truth. We cannot hide it forever. In general, those who criticize the government are always getting life threat from unidentified people, especially human rights workers and politicians[…] Blog created is a good tool for sharing my own thoughts and opinions with all of you.

This sentiment is also shared by Kounila, in her post on “Politics You View in this World,”. She declared that Cambodian society might continually stay under suppression. It is just like domino effect where the old generation living in the dark period of genocide were traumatized to stay in silence and this had great impact on the younger generation who were told to follow only instructions without questioning.

“They [the old generation] are afraid to tell their real feelings. They are scared to be asked to give judgments about anything. Later, their children are taught to follow authority without questions, and after all they learn to do the same. No politics is blurted out at school or at home since their parents can blame or shoo them about any topic related to politics they talk about anywhere,” wrote Kounila.

Without letting this effect continue, Kounila started arguing with a friend and teacher about politics. Acknowledging that people perceive politics as dangerous and no ordinary person wants to be involved with politics, Kounila wonders why politicians dare to kill each other. Regardless of the threat in the political stage, Kounila still perceives that people need to act out in order that politicians will not be controlled by only a so-called elite group. She emphasizes that politics is for the people's welfare, it is therefore necessary for people to get out of political trap.

“Don’t let politics control you. You control it! Power is intoxicating but it doesn’t last long, just a blink if you think hard,” urged Kounila.

While there are mixed views on the state of freedom of expression in Cambodia, there is a subsequent tendency of internet censorship. The government plans to have a state-run exchange point to control all local internet service providers in order that internet security including pornography, theft and cyber crime can be censured. This has sparked another fear about the declining state of freedom of expression and access to information in Cambodia.

January 14 2010

Cambodia: Bloggers discuss LGBT issues

LGBT issues are not openly discussed in Cambodian mainstream society but they are being debated in the blogosphere. A leading example is Gay Khmer group, a website which was established to create a public platform for gay issues. This network is written in Khmer and English. The objectives of the site:

លើក​កំពស់​ការ​យល់​ដឹង​របស់​មនុស្ស​ដែល​មាន​ភេទ​ធម្មតាអំពី​ហ្គេយ៍ និង សិទ្ឋ​របស់​គេ។ រួម​គ្នា​ប្រឆាំង​នឹង​ការ​រើស​អើង​ការ​ស្រលាញ់​ភេទ​ដូចគ្នា។ បំពេញ​តម្រូវការ​របស់​ហ្គេយ៍ (ផ្តល់​ព័ត៌មាន ដំណឹង ចំណេះដឹង គំនិត អំពី​ជីវិត សិទ្ឋ ការ​អប់រំ សុខភាព សិច ស្នេហា…)។ ជា​កន្លែង​ដ៏​ល្អ​សម្រាប់​ហ្គេយ៍ និង អ្នក​ស្រលាញ់​ទាំង​ពីរ​ភេទ​ ព្រមទាំង​អ្នក​ដែល​មាន​ភេទ​ធម្មតា ចែក​រំលែក​បទពិសោធន៍គ្នា។ ស្វែង​រក​ដំណោះ​ស្រាយ​​សម្រាប់​រាល់​បញ្ហា​របស់​សមាជិក​របស់​យើង​តាម​រយៈ​មតិ​សាធារណៈ…ល។

The aim of GK is to raise awareness about gays and their rights, to unite in the fight against homophobia, to provide information access to gay and bi people about news updates on lifestyle, rights, education, health, sex, love…, and to serve as platform for experience sharing and solution exploration.

Through this blog network,  many gender issues were tackled among members and commentators who voiced anxiety and doubt such as Hidden Face, When I Realized Being Gay, Is It True that Gays Love only Sex.

There is also another blog activist, Sobin, whose blog is dedicated to be a forum for sharing the life stories of gays. The header of his blog conveys a meaningful and interesting slogan: “No mater what gender you are…love is always beautiful.”

Interestingly, last year Cambodia celebrated its first ever Cambodian lesbian film, “Who Am I?” directed by Mrs. Phoan Phuong Bopha, whose movie attracted an estimated 4,000 viewers, which AFP called as a blockbuster for the country's tiny movie industry. This film is part of an awareness raising campaign against lesbian discrimination in the country. This year, another LGBT film will be shown soon: “High School Love Story.” The film's story centers on a gay love affair.

In her post about “High School Love Story: Cambodia's Gay Film,” Kounila Keo, a prominent Cambodian blogher, expresses her excitement to see this upcoming film and highlights the obstacles confronting gay people in society:

Certainly, I am looking forward to watching “High School Love Story”. I don’t really think this is a new issue. Gays and lesbians have always been in Cambodia. I understand why they have been hiding themselves from society. A lot of discrimination is going on everywhere against homosexuals or same-sex lovers. Gays and lesbians should really have their own rights to express themselves in whatever way.

Besides films, blogs have become venues that address LGBT concerns. Young bloggers belonging to Khmer Youth Writers also use their personal websites to highlight LGBT issues. “Boy Friend” is a 2009 Khmer novel written by Archphkai or Asteroid, a promising Cambodian writer. In his free book distribution campaign, the author asked the readers to answer an interesting question:

យល់​យ៉ាង​ណា​ចំពោះ​ស្នេហា​ភេទ​ដូច​គ្នា? ប្រុស​ស្រឡាញ់​ប្រុស/ស្រី​ស្រឡាញ់​ស្រី។

What is your expression about same-sex love (gays/lesbians)?

Most of those who responded have positive views on the issue:

ស្រលាញ់មនុស្សម្នាក់គ្មានកំហុសទេ។​ ស្នេហារវាងបុរសនិងបុរស គ្រាន់តែជាប្រភេទមួយទៀតនៃសេចក្តីស្នេហា ខ្ញុំគិតថាបើវាធ្វើអោយយើងមាន សេចក្តីសុខ នោះវាគ្មានអ្វីអាក្រកនោះទេ។ ការទទួលស្គាល់ការពិតថាយើង​ជាអ្នកណានោះវាពិសេសជាងការព្យាយាមគេចវេសពីការពិត។ អ្នកដែលមិន​ទទួលស្គាល់ស្នេហាប្រភេទនេះ គឹគ្រាន់តែកុហកខ្លួនឯងប៉ុណ្ណោះ។ តែអ្វីដែលមិន​ល្អគឺនៅពេលដែលពួកគេយកស្នេហាជាការបាំងមុខល្បែងផ្លូវភេទ។ សេចក្តីស្នេហាពិតប្រាកដ​ ពិតជាអស្ជារ្យលើសពីការគិត។

It is not a mistake to love someone. Male same-sex love is just one type of love. It is not bad if it brings happiness. Accepting the truth is better than hiding the fact. Those who do not acknowledge this type of love is lying to themselves. Yet, it is bad if they treat love for only sex. True love is the greatest thing.

On the contrary, a Facebook user, Tauch Narin, launched a debate late last year on gay rights by updating his status with a question “Do You Support Gay Rights in Cambodia? It generated many contrasting comments.

A facebook commenter emphasizes that gays are humans with human rights: “They are not monsters,they are humans, and if humans have rights, why not gays and lesbians? They just have different preference from us.” Another commenter has a different view: “It's sounds reasonable. But the truth is it's sinful.”

Narin continued the debate by outlining the idea that one may become gay by association factor. While acknowledging that everybody has rights, Narin insisted that “freedom does not always allow one to do whatever they like” by comparing the choice to be gay or lesbian to the choice of others to be criminals or drug addicts:

People choose to be a gay or lesbian because they are addicted to such sexual behavior. Just like drug addicts, no easy way to get rid of. Naturally people are born to be male and female as indicated by gender organ. Tell me if there were any other types of gender organ?

Stereotype is the main factor that spread homosexual culture. If someone associates with criminals, he would become criminal himself. If a person associates with drug addicts, he would become a drug addict too. If a person associates with homosexual person, he would be one of them.

This statement attracted more reactions which forced Narin to clarify his position:

I do respect their rights and dignity as human beings…they are human beings, they deserve our acknowledgment and protection. Of course we can't change people personality, we have to accept it even though we do not like it personally. My concern is the move to support their right to marry. It is the fundamental pillar of gender. The right to marry and have family of their own. Can u imagine how would it look like?

January 06 2010

Cambodia: Bloggers promote Khmer Literature

អក្សររលត់ ជាតិរលាយ អក្សរពណ្ណរាយ ជាតិថ្កើងថ្កាន
Aksar roluat jeat roleay Aksar ponnareay jeat thkeung  thkan.

“If letters disappear, the nation will disappear, if letters are brilliant, the nation is excellent.”

This is one of the prominent Cambodian proverbs used mostly in Cambodian literature classes from primary to higher education level. It is the most influential message that inspires the young generation to promote Khmer literature. Strikingly, young Cambodian bloggers have transformed this proverb into action by promoting the achievement of past generation authors as well as creating their own literature and developing talents through the publication of digital and hard-copy materials.

Established in 2007, Khmer Youth Writers is initiated by young authors who are talented in Cambodian literature with the purpose of promoting and improving Khmer literature and its market.  Many of the young team members have won in the National Khmer Literature Competition, which is annually organized by the Ministry of Education.

Also, they were further trained by literature associations like the Nou Hach Literary Association whose motto is to strengthen and promote Cambodian literature. Their publications have gained admiration from readers who are curious to know more about how to become talented authors.

Asked about his interest in writing and becoming a literature author, 26 year-old Chanphal Sok, who claims to be the oldest in the team (the average age in the group is between 19 to 22), replied in Khmer language:

ខ្ញុំ! ចាប់អារម្មណ៍ព្រោះយល់ថាជាសិល្បៈដែលមិនងាយនឹងធ្វើបាន ទាល់តែមនុស្សពូកែទើបអាចសរសេរស្នាដៃបាន
គិតថា មិនមែនមនុស្សគ្រប់គ្នាអាចអ្វើការងារនេះបានទេ បើខ្លួនឯងមាននិស្ស័យអាចទៅរួចគួរតែខំប្រឹង

I am interested in this work for the fact that literature is a difficult artistic task. Only few talented people can do so. With special talent in literature, I therefore want to become an author.

Sophal also expresses the significance of his team’s literature work on Khmer reader and the whole society:

ទីមួយ ខ្មែរមានអក្សរសិល្បអាន។ អប់រំតាមស្នាដៃនិពន្ធ។មនុស្សអាចសិក្សាពីសង្គមមួយតាមស្នាដៃអក្សរសិល្ប៍ ។ខ្ញុំសង្កេតឃើញថា បើប្រទេសណា មានអ្នកនិពន្ធពូកែច្រើនប្រទេសនោះក៏រីកចម្រើនដែរ ។ មនុស្សរៀនតាមសៀវភៅ បើមានសៀវភៅល្អច្រើនប្រាកដជាល្អ។

Firstly, Khmer readers can benefit from Cambodian literature. It can be used for educational purposes. People can understand a society through literature. I observe that a country is prosperous when there are many talented authors. People learn by reading books; therefore, it is great if there are many books published.

Some members who live in the provinces could not join the team meetings regularly. The internet facilitates instant communication in the group. Sophal considers blogs as great communication tools. “A blog is like our officewhich we can share and make our works widely visible,” said Sophal.

One of the initiators of this Khmer Youth Authors, Archphkai or Asteroid, in his profile gave a brief history of the group as the following:

«ក្រុមអ្នកនិពន្ធវ័យក្មេង»  ត្រូវបានបង្កើតឡើងដោយក្រុមសិស្សនិស្សិតមួយក្រុម  ក្រោយពីបាន ឆ្លងកាត់វគ្គសិក្សារឿងខ្លីនៅសមាគមអក្សរសិល្ប៍នូហាចរួចមក។ ក្រោយមកក្រុមនេះត្រូវបានដូរឈ្មោះជា «ក្រុមយុវអ្នកនិពន្ធខ្មែរ» វិញម្តង ដោយបានទទួលការផ្តល់យោបល់ពីអ្នកស្រីប៉ិចសង្វាវ៉ាន អ្នកនិពន្ធខ្មែរនៅប្រទេសបារាំង។

“Young Authors Group” is established by a group of students who took literature training course at Nou Hach Literary Association.  This group later changed its name to “Khmer Youth Authors” with the advice of Khmer author, Mrs. Pich Sanvavan.

Here are the links to the blogs of these young team members as well as literature authors who have written various short stories and poems: Archphkai, Boran, Chanphal Sok, Chetra, Khmeng Toch , Narath , Nimol

Notably, Cambodia is fortunate to have many scholars and authors who are talented in literature. These writers employ chbap, or didactic codes, Reuang Preng, or folktales, and novels, for example, in order to educate and reflect the reality of society during their lifetime. For instance, the most popular novels published during late 1930s, which have been used as main school texts are Phka Srapon or Faded Flower by Nou Hach, Sophat by Rim Gin and Koulap Pailin or Pailin Rose, by Nuk Thiem. These novels have film adaptations. Also within the period of 1950s to 1975, about 50 books per year were published (Nepote, Jacques and Khing Hoc Dy, “Literature and Society in Modern Cambodia,” 1981: 64).

However, much of Cambodian literary heritage was destroyed during the rule of Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979) when the National Library was maintained to raise pigs instead. It was estimated that about 80 percent of written works in Khmer were destroyed (read “A Building Full of Books” by Ledgerwood in Cultural Survival).

Cambodia lacks its own text materials, especially since the fall of the Khmer Rouge Regime. Hopefully, the inspiring works of young Cambodian authors will help reawaken the past golden era of Khmer literature.

November 13 2009

Cambodia: Journalist charged with defamation

Ros Sokhet, a journalist well known in Cambodia for his contribution to the English language media, was arrested on October 30th and charged with defamation. On November 6th he was convicted of spreading corruption accusations about news anchor and newspaper publisher Soy Sopheap and sentenced to two years in prison.

Was it because he reported on corruption in Cambodia’s media or because he was corrupt himself?

Sokhet admitted sending the following four text messages to Soy Sopheap in October, as reported by The Cambodian Auckland Association Inc. (CAAI) News Media on October 30th.

“How much money did you demand from Khe Dara, her husband said that amount US$ 5,000, why were you so bad in action?”

“Khe Dara’s file was a little bit, but you extended to large, I received a report from Tong Seng who was threatened money by you as well as other members of CPP, all of them were very unhappy whatever you acted”

“Ok, all of CPP’s members were not happy, they want to destroy you. Moreover, CTN’s boss also did not welcome you”

“Tong Seng asked me…?”

Khe Dara is serving a prison sentence for firing a gun in public. Her husband Hang Mong Heng claimed that two journalists attempted to extort $7000 from him for not reporting the story, a statement he has since retracted. Tong Seng is a governor for the Cambodia People’s Party (CPP).

Why did Sokhet send those text messages to Sopheap? Why did Sopheap consider it a matter to refer to the police?

He said it was because,

“I heard some people talked about him [Soy Sopheap], some journalists criticized him at Atalantic shop [called Arun Reah], so I decided to inform him as soon as possible.”

The October issue of Southeast Asia Globe printed an article on corruption among Cambodian reporters, editors, publishers and TV news anchors. In that article, ironically penned by Sokhet himself, he writes that from the Atlantic coffee shop,

“journalists will make a phone call for an appointment and then set a price for spiking (deleting) the story or changing the facts to fit a victim’s preferred profile.”

Cambodian officials and publishers acknowledged that corruption exists among journalists, but none have taken responsibility. Pen Samithi, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, said,

“I recognize that there are many corrupt journalists and that only way to solve this problem is for the ministry of information to be strict in issuing a license to open a newspaper.”

Samithi is the editor and chief of pro-CPP newspaper Ramsey Kampushea. Meatophoum newspaper publisher Om Chandara also wants tighter regulation, and criticized the ministry of information,

“It hands out passes and registration to untrained journalists who go around exporting money everywhere, from capital to provinces.”

The minister of information, Khieu Kanharith, responded by passing the buck, “It [corruption] is because the authorities in the provinces are weak.” Sokhet quoted Soy Sopheap, “I am not corrupt and I have never received money,” in the same piece.

There is a great deal of foreign news coverage in Cambodia. The Phnom Penh Post gained fame for its war reporting in the 90s, and the Cambodia Daily, a non-profit project of Bernie Krishner’s, strives to not only produce high-quality news, but also to train young journalists. The Southeast Asia Globe, published by former employees of Germany’s Focus magazine, is a full color monthly with offices in Cambodia and Thailand. All employ Khmer and foreign staff. The Mirror translates Khmer language new articles into English and posts them online, while the anonymous author of weblog Details are Sketchy provides insightful commentary on the Cambodia and her media.

Cambodia’s press freedom rank by Reporters Without Borders improved in 2009 to the 117th most corrupt out of 175 countries polled, up from a rank of 126th in 2008. This year at least one journalist was arrested for reporting on corruption, not counting Sokhet, while last year two opposition journalists were killed in the run up to the 2008 national election.

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