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Asian bloggers discuss Internet freedom at Cambodia conference

Got freedom? Asian bloggers from across the region discuss Internet freedom and the art of the Internet at Siem Reap, Cambodia Blogfest 2012 festival

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Blogfest Asia 2012 attendees listen to a talk in Siem Reap, Cambodia. (Faine Greenwood/GlobalPost)

Bloggers from across Asia came together in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap this weekend to discuss blogging, technology and Internet freedom at 2012's Blogfest Asia festival, a gathering of over 160 opinionated and distinctly geeky participants.Tops on the agenda? Internet freedom.

GlobalPost attended the gathering this weekend, listening in as representatives from each nation in attendance stood and delivered their thoughts on the current state of press and online freedom in their countries on Sunday, in an illuminating AM bit of real-talk.

"For the first time, maybe the [Indonesian] government is panicking a little about blogging, and the opinion of bloggers and social media users in Indonesia," said Indonesian representative Chichi N. Utami, who had been tasked with going first.

"But instead of being angry or judging them, they start following the leading opinion of these netizens and approaching them, and they're starting to blog and Tweet also. So they can get an honest opinion from this," added Utami, a Jakarta-based legal analyst and blogger.

Meanwhile, formerly oppressive Myanmar is experiencing something of an Internet revolution in its own right, said Yatanar Htun—who helps run the groundbreaking Myanmar ICT for Development Organization.

Read more from GlobalPost: A Friday in Cambodia

"The new government has lifted some censorship on the Internet, and Internet users are growing" said the soft-spoken Htun, who noted that Internet penetration in Myanmar has grown from a mere 0.3 percent to around 2 or 3 percent—more than host nation Cambodia.

Political bloggers who were imprisoned after the 2007 Saffron Revolution have been released, and are now attempting to figure out what's next, and where exactly they stand.

"There is still fear that access to the Internet has not been raised to an acceptable condition," said Htun. "Currently, it is a time to focus on Internet policy."

Malaysia-native and journalism professor Jeremiah Foo was tasked with discussing China, where he lived and worked under the infamously Internet unfriendly regime for a time.

"Because we live in China, we have this constant anxiety about not being in the know," said the effervescent Foo of his expat experience there.

 "Which is quite bad, because our friends have Facebook, and our students are on Weibo, and there are things you cannot say."

"We have split personalities," he added. "We don't sleep properly, because we dream of Facebook."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, raucous applause filled the room after that particular barb. Indeed, Foo's wry attitude regarding oppressive governments was echoed by a number of the attendees: determined both to keep up their hard-fought fight for freedom, and to have a bit of fun in the process.

The Cambodian contingent expressed their concern to the crowd over a looming cyber law, which would for the first time enforce restrictions on the Southeast Asian nation's relatively laissez-faire network.

 Bloggers and Internet advocates thus far haven't been allowed to view a draft of the new legislation, supposedly meant to counter terrorism—and that's making many uneasy, said Cambodian Center for Human Rights program director and blogger Chak Sopheap

"If the government or authorities say that [they need a law] to stop human trafficking, or to prevent social crimes... you have to strengthen your law enforcement," said Sopheap questioning the legislation's intentions. "It's not the cyber law you have to enforce in these kinds of scenarios."

"We think people have a voice to be heard, and they cannot go to the newspaper or radio or TV, most of which are closely monitored by the government," added Cambodian blogger and event organizer Kounila Keo.

"Blogging and Twitter are not really monitored at the moment by anybody, and people can say whatever they want," she added.

As the attendees of Blogfest Asia 2012 demonstrated this weekend, these ASEAN bloggers are more than happy to demonstrate that right—and they're ready to fight for their ability to continue the noisy, exuberant debate well into the future.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/cambodia/121104/asian-bloggers-discuss-internet-freedom-at-cambod