The National Assembly is set to vote on controversial legal amendments on Wednesday, including a lèse majesté law, while the president of the body in charge of reviewing the changes said yesterday the government also has plans for a law to regulate social media.
After a meeting about the amendments to the Constitution and Criminal Code, Legislation and Justice Committee President Chheang Vun told reporters the committee had received the draft amendments and had sent a report to the upcoming plenary session for review.
“We need to put a heavy punishment in the law related to attacking and impacting, directly or indirectly, the king’s honour and power,” he said. A similar lèse majesté law is already in place in Thailand, where it has been used to punish political dissent.
The constitutional amendments include restrictions on freedom of association and political participation, and have attracted criticism from rights groups, especially since they were drafted behind closed doors.
Meanwhile, Vun yesterday unexpectedly turned to another potential law that would affect free speech.
“I would like to inform that in Cambodia, we will make a law about the use of social media in order to protect the nation and Cambodian people and our society,” he said.
“The one who comments and the owner of the account must be punished,” he continued, adding that other countries already had created such laws. If users were “attacking public figures illegally without evidence”, he said, the account owner could be considered at fault.
This would prevent people from using social media “to serve the colour revolution” – a catchall term used to describe an alleged foreign-backed opposition plot to overthrow the government.
Seemingly innocuous political speech has been increasingly policed on social media in recent months. Just last week, one man was arrested for posting videos critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen, and Sam Sokha – a woman who posted a video of herself throwing a sandal at a ruling party billboard – was extradited from Thailand and is facing two years in prison.
Council of Ministers spokesperson Phay Siphan yesterday said he didn’t know about plans for a new social media law and directed questions to Huy Vannak, of the Ministry of Interior.
Vannak said he was unaware of such a plan and had only heard of plans to draft a cyber law, which is ongoing. “We welcome any initiative to amend the press law and the draft cyber law,” he said. “It doesn’t mean to harm anyone, but . . . we should rather defend the land of the law than the land of anarchy.”
Sok Eysan, ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesperson, said social media was under the purview of the ministries of Information and Telecommunications, and needed be watched. “Because the advanced technology, it gives [people] the opportunity to commit anarchic things in society that impact the nation and people’s interests,” he said.
“Therefore we have to look into it,” he said, adding “also other big countries around the world” had to fight publication of fake news, and inciting or hateful speech, which he said could be spread through messaging apps like Whatsapp and Facebook. “As we open widely, we also monitor them thoroughly.”