The optimism I sensed in Cambodia in 2015 was cautious at best, notes analyst Martha Bayles. But among young people, at least, it was contagious enough that, when rumors began to circulate of new laws directed at foreign NGOS, human rights groups, independent media, and most ominous, a new China-enabled “cyber-security” measure aimed at transforming the Cambodian internet from a vital, humming web of free expression to a stifling, chainmail cloak of surveillance, propaganda, and censorship, I found myself dismissing them as just that—rumors, she writes for the American Interest:
But they were not rumors. They were portents. In the first week of September 2017, Kem Sokha, head of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party, was sentenced to five months in prison for having “conspired with a foreign government” to overthrow the regime. This “conspiracy” consisted of prior conversations with American academics and others about strategies for building a grassroots political organization. But such details hardly mattered, because the python was busy strangling not just Kem Sokha and his party (banned in November 2017) but the entire political opposition, as well as labor unions, NGOs (including the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy), and every other institution comprising Cambodian civil society.