Compared to neighboring Thailand and Vietnam, internet censorship in Cambodia has historically been fairly limited – no doubt in large part due to the fact that internet penetration has been negligible.
Things are changing fast however. Internet penetration jumped from 0.05% percent in 2000 to 0.5% in 2010, but it is the increasing popularity and availability of internet enabled mobile phones over the last few years that has caused internet use to skyrocket (by more than 500 percent in 2011 alone). In 2013, 3.8 out of 15 million Khmers (47.2 percent) were using the Internet.
In a country where freedom of expression through traditional media channels has always been extremely restricted (Freedom House downgraded Cambodia from ‘partly free’ to ‘not free’ in 2009), this massive rise in internet use has obviously rattled the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) run Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC).
This has led over the last few years to greatly increased internet censorship, and a proposal for new cybercrime legislation that has internet rights organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) deeply worried.
After looking our pick of the best VPN providers for Cambodia, we will discuss these issues in some detail.
|1||IronSocket review||$6.99 / month||Visit Site|
|2||BolehVPN review||$6.67 / month||Visit Site|
|3||VPNArea review||$4.92 / month||Visit Site|
|4||ExpressVPN review||$6.67 / month||Visit Site|
|5||PureVPN review||$2.95 / month||Visit Site|
- No usage logs
- 256-bit AES OpenVPN encryption
- Servers in 36 countries
- Shared IPs
- Accept>s Bitcoins
- Based in Hong Kong
- 7 day money back guarantee
- Up to 3 simultaneous connections
- P2P: yes
- Keeps session logs(typically not kept for more than 72 hours)
IronSocket is a Hong Kong based VPN provider (with servers also in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and West Coast US) which uses shared IPs, accepts anonymous payment via Bitcoins, uses 256-bit AES encryption, and allows 3 simultaneous connections (more can be bought and proxy use is unlimited). It does keep too many connection logs (although no usage logs), but being under Hong Kong (Edward Snowden’s first choice of refuge) jurisdiction offsets this somewhat.
- No logs
- Great OSX and Windows software
- P2P: yes
- 2 simultaneous connections
- HK server uses shared IPs
- 128-bit Blowfish OpenVPN encryption could be stronger
Based offshore somewhere in Malaysia, BolehVPN is one of SE Asia’s most popular VPN providers. It keeps no logs and has an excellent OSX and Windows VPN client, which while having a bit of steep learning curve, offers a wealth of connection options. BolehVPN is also fast, and allows P2P downloading. Not required in Cambodia (yet), but if the RGC ever gets around to ‘centralizing’ the internet (as it has tried to do in the past) , then BolehVPN’s Hong Kong based ‘cloaked routers’ are likely to come in handy. The West Coast US ‘SurfingStreaming’ servers are also great for watching US content.
- No logs
- Based in Bulgaria (no DRD)
- 5 simultaneous devices
- Uses shared IPs (although currently there are not enough people to share them with)
- Simple user interface
- Good speeds
- Great Windows client
- Great customer service
- Accepts Bitcoins
- 7 day money back guarantee
- P2P: yes
- New company so may experience teething problems
A fairly new provider on our radar, but one which impressed us mightily thanks to a completely no logs policy, good performance results, up to 5 simultaneous connections, VPNArea accepts anonymous payment via Bitcoins, has a fantastic Windows client with DNS leak protection, a per-app kill switch, auto-IP changer, and server statistics, while also having one of the friendliest and most helpful support staff we have come across.
IPs are shared, which will be great for privacy when VPNArea attracts more customers, and P2P downloading is not a problem (not really an issue in Cambodia, but it’s nice to know…). For such a small start-up company, this Bulgarian VPN has a very sizable international presence, including servers in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and (of course) West Coast US.
- Fast speed
- Servers in 78 countries
- iOS and Android apps
- 30 day money back guarantee
- Pricing is a bit high (though worth the extra cost)
- US based
A big international company with servers just about everywhere (including Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, and West Coast US), ExpressVPN is fast, has apps for iOS and Android, and sports a 30 day money back guarantee. It also runs ‘stealth servers’ in Hong Kong, designed to hide the fact that VPN is being used. A US based company, ExpressVPN promises to keep no connection logs, and although a bit on the pricey side, it offers a good balance of features, with lots of bells and whistles
- P2P: yes (on some servers)
- ‘Up to’ 256-bit SSTP and OpenVPN encryption
- 2 simultaneous connections
- iOS app
- Android app
- 3 days money back guarantee
- Servers in Singapore and Malaysia
- Keeps logs (but based in Hong Kong)
When initially reviewing PureVPN we were concerned by the fact that they keeps logs, but as it is based in Hong Kong this is likely not a huge threat, and it has no problems with P2P downloading (using selected servers). The iOS and Android apps are very nice, as is the ‘up to’ 265-bit OpenVPN encryption. There is a 3 day money back guarantee, but be warned that we have received many complaints about customers not getting a refund for this, and receiving poor customer service. PureVPN runs servers in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.
Internet censorship in Cambodia
The rise of ‘new media’
Cambodia is a ‘closed society’ where, despite being enshrined in both its constitution and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Cambodia in 1992), the Government traditionally holds very tight control over its citizens’ freedom of expression.
The RGC achieves this though its dominance of traditional media outlets such as newspapers, television, and radio, making it very difficult for dissenters and political opponents to share their views with the populace, and through judicial punishment of those of criticize the government.
To provide a legal foundation for this, the RGC enacted new Penal Code laws in 2009, which criminalize various forms of expression, and it is currently proposing new laws aimed at monitoring unions and NGOs.
With such tight government control over traditional media channels, the internet has proven a breath of fresh air for bloggers, activists, dissidents, and social commentators (well-known blogger Ou Ritthy in this article describes his crowd as ‘a group of young, enthusiastic and social media-savvy Cambodians who love sociopolitical and economic discussion’, and ‘believe in liberal democracy prevailing in Cambodia by enhancing discussion and debate.’)
Proeuy Kieng, ‘a 19-year-old who frequents an internet café in Phnom Penh to check his Facebook feed’, confirms how the internet lifts traditional political restrictions,
‘In Cambodia, if there’s a big demonstration, we can see the news online.’
Unsurprisingly, the RGC has not been happy with this growth of ‘E-democracy’, and although at present there is no regulatory framework in place for censoring the internet, this has not prevented it from trying to apply its usual ‘control and punishment’ tactics to online dissent.
In April 2013, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) released a Briefing Note tilted ‘Internet Censorship: The Ongoing Crackdown on Freedom of Expression in Cambodia’. It lists efforts by the government to censor or impose control over internet content, ranging from holding bi-monthly meetings to review websites which feature ‘racy’ images of Khmer women, threatening to shut down a radio station accused of publishing articles critical of Cambodian leaders, and the arrest of political dissident Seng Kunnaka, who had printed anti-government articles published on the KI-Media website, and shared them with a handful of colleagues. Since that time reports indicate many Cambodian ISPs are blocking KI-Media (although the government denies this).
The draft Law on Cybercrime
In order to provide a firmer legal basis for control of the internet, the RGC has drafted a new Law on Cybercrime, aimed at stifling free speech and preventing political dissent. Article 28 of the draft is particularly heinous, as it criminalizes ‘publications that [are] deemed damaging to the moral and cultural values of the society,’ and ‘publications or continuation of publication that [are] deemed to be non-factual which slanders or undermined the integrity of any governmental agencies, ministries, not limited to departments, federal or local levels.’
Punishments typically range from 1 to 3 years, plus fines of up to 6 million Riels (approx. US$1,500).
The law was first drafted (in secret, and with no public consultation) in 2012, but since, thanks to dissenters sharing criticisms and ideas online through social media websites, ‘the opposition made substantial gains against the ruling CPP party, which has held an iron lock on power for decades,’ almost winning the 2013 national elections, the CPP has stepped up efforts to pass the law,
‘The ruling party is certainly frustrated at the fact that they cannot win the battle online. They have no idea what to do. They tried different things. They tried throwing a lot of money, and that didn’t work. So they’re obviously frustrated. And this is why the Cybercrime Law is going to be one that the government is looking at as a potential tool,’ explains political analyst Ou Virak.
In addition to legislation, the government has made various (so far unsuccessful) moves towards bringing all internet access in Cambodia under the control of one centralised state-run company.
In 2009 the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MOPTS) issued an edict demanding that ‘inter-network connection between all telecommunication operators shall be through a central centre of Cambodian Telecommunication.’
This was never enforced, but in 2010 the RGC ‘initiated plans to control Cambodia’s Internet through the creation of a state-run centralized Internet hub. It was reported that the hub would consist of a domestic Internet exchange point (“DIX”) hosted by TC, through which all of Cambodia’s Internet traffic would be routed, with TC charging other operators a transmission fee.’
The plans were later shelved however, thanks to an estimated investment cost of around US$500 million being required, but MOPT is nevertheless now reported to be considering new licensing requirements for ISPs.
VPN use in Cambodia
At present then, the internet in Cambodia remains fairly unrestricted, although expressing political views counter to those of the government can get posters in trouble. Those wishing to protect their privacy or anonymity are therefore advised to use VPN or Tor, and use pseudonyms when posting content that is likely to upset the RGC. Copyright piracy is a non-issue.
If using VPN we recommend choosing a server located in Hong Kong, as this is (relatively) close geographically (and should therefore suffer minimum lag issues), while having arguably the most free and uncensored internet access in Asia (or, for that matter, the world).
VPN use is not restricted in Cambodia, so users wanting to access geo-restricted media content media content (such as Hulu or BBC iPlayer), or use VPN to protect their WiFi hotspot connections, have a free choice of providers.