Cambodia denies new law sets up China-style internet controls; new cluster sees 35 new Covid-19 cases

Women wear face masks as they walks near an advertising screen in Koh Pich, a popular Chinese expat neighborhood, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen announced on state television Saturday that at least 32 Chinese nationals have been confirmed coronavirus. - AP

PHNOM PENH, Feb 22 (Reuters): Cambodia has denied accusations that a new law setting up a national internet gateway would usher in Chinese-style surveillance and censorship, adding that it would soon draft a law to protect personal data.

The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPTC) issued a statement after an outcry over this week's enactment of a sub-decree requiring all internet traffic to be routed within a national gateway within a year.

"The allegations with regard to the establishment of the National Internet Gateway are unfounded, politically motivated, untrue and contradictory to the objectives stated in the Sub-Decree," the statement said.

"MPTC would like to reiterate that no provision in the Sub-Decree authorizes the collection of consumers’ data and restriction on freedom of expression," it added.

Critics have said longtime Cambodian leader Hun Sen could use the law replicate China's tight internet controls that block Western media apps including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and censor content that could undermine the ruling Communist Party.

The Cambodian government statement said most countries have internet gateways and the new law was passed after consultation with experts and private telecoms operators.

The new gateway comes as Hun Sen's government faces international criticism over a crackdown that has decimated civil society and the political opposition, resulting in a power monopoly for his party, and criminal charges and jail terms for many of its rivals.

Cambodia on Monday (Feb 22) confirmed 35 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the total number of infections in the kingdom to 568, said a Ministry of Health (MoH) statement.

The new infections included 31 locally-transmitted cases in capital Phnom Penh and southern Kandal province and four imported cases, the statement said, adding that the new patients are currently undergoing treatment at various designated Covid-19 hospitals.

"The MoH once again urges all people across the country, especially those in capital Phnom Penh and Kandal province, to be highly vigilant and to advise their family members to strictly follow self-protection measures set out by the government," the statement said.

It also called on people who realized that they were involved in the Feb. 20 community Covid-19 outbreak to go for virus tests at the Chak Angre Health Centre in southern Phnom Penh and to quarantine for 14 days at home.

"If you feel unwell such as fever, cough, cold, throat ache or breathing difficulty, please contact the 115 free hotline," it added.

According to the statement, more than 20 locations, including night clubs, hotels, apartments, entertainment venues and schools, have been closed so far in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

The South-East Asian nation has registered a total of 568 confirmed Covid-19 cases to date, with zero deaths and 475 recoveries, the statement said. - Xinhua
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