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‘Agitprop’ work of new government team

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith speaks at an event in May this year.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith speaks at an event in May this year. Pha Lina

‘Agitprop’ work of new government team

A video released last month by the government and widely broadcast on local television stations attempting to link the opposition to a so-called colour revolution was the work of a high-powered interministerial working group created on the orders of Prime Minister Hun Sen specifically to produce anti-opposition “propaganda”.

The video was released by the Council of Ministers’ media arm, the Press and Quick Reaction Unit (PQRU), late last month and sought to equate the CNRP’s activities in 2013 – when protests followed the disputed national elections – to citizen-led popular movements that have toppled authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Huy Vannak, an undersecretary of state for the Interior Ministry, confirmed that a nine-member working group was created in October to compile all the relevant information relating to the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s purported attempt at a “colour revolution” and produce a video to “educate” the public.

He added that Information Minister Khieu Kanharith headed the group and was assisted by two deputies – PQRU spokesman Tith Sothea and Deputy National Police Chief Chhay Sinarith. Other members included himself, Justice Ministry spokesman Kim Santepheap and the director of state-run broadcaster TVK, Khim Vuthy.

“We will expand it [the project] by not only explaining to the people to understand about the dangers of colour revolutions . . . but to introduce them to know about the national security policy. So we need to do more,” he said by phone yesterday.

The nearly hourlong video uses images from demonstrations in countries like Libya, Tunisia, Syria, Serbia and Ukraine and links them to US State Department-funded organisations such as the National Democratic Institute, which was expelled from the country earlier this year; the International Republican Institute; and the National Endowment for Democracy.

Particular focus is given to the nonprofit Canvas and the political organisation Otpor!, which were part of the protests in Eastern Europe. The video went so far as to suggest that the raised fists of CNRP lawmakers shown in pictures were inspired by Canvas’s logo of a clenched fist.

Video of protesters in Georgia are also broadcast side-by-side with images of protesters marching in Phnom Penh following the 2013 elections.

A screenshot from a video posted by the government that alleges the CNRP, a host of American organisations, a local NGO and others have been involved in a conspiracy to foment ‘colour revolution’.
A screenshot from a video posted by the government that alleges the CNRP, a host of American organisations, a local NGO and others have been involved in a conspiracy to foment ‘colour revolution’. Photo supplied

Asked how the working group was able to ascertain exactly what information related to an alleged revolution, Vannak said there were teams of investigators, technical experts and production specialists to aid in the creation of the video.

“We worked on it deeply and clearly, and it is beneficial for national security,” he added.

Information Minister Kanharith did not respond to requests for comment and the Justice Ministry’s Santepheap hung up on a reporter. Only TVK boss Khim Vuthy confirmed his participation in the video production.

“The minister is the director. We are just the practitioners, and I do not know about other things,” he said, before refusing to answer further questions.

Local TV stations have broadcast sections of the video since its release and, on Sunday, TVK broadcast its own version of the production, using the same images but with the addition of commentary to push the government’s case for dissolving the CNRP, which will be the subject of a Supreme Court hearing on November 16. The narrative of the party’s “treasonous” activities was the basis of the Ministry of Interior’s complaint seeking its dissolution.

CNRP lawmaker Cheam Channy said the government had assembled the working group with the aim to distort the CNRP’s activities, but that the average person would be able to look beyond this propaganda. “So once it creates such a document to introduce [the idea] that the CNRP is the initiator of the colour revolution, no one will believe that,” he said.

Party Deputy President Mu Sochua said the group’s video only revealed the government’s desperation in its search for “evidence” to target the opposition. “This propaganda is persecution of opponents and critics in the style of communists,” she said.

Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson, meanwhile, said the working group was creating a storyline to run in tandem with the “investigation” launched by the authorities to dissolve the opposition party.

“Kanharith’s propaganda committee creates a story-line and whips up the fervour to do something, and then the CPP sends in its police and prosecutors to conduct the so-called ‘investigation’,” he said via email.

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