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Cambodia’s Facebook crackdown: Police are monitoring site for ‘enemies’ and ‘rebel movements’

Officials attend a meeting yesterday to discuss a six-month statistical report on crime that touts official efforts to thwart ‘rebel movements’ on social media. Photo supplied
Officials attend a meeting yesterday to discuss a six-month statistical report on crime that touts official efforts to thwart ‘rebel movements’ on social media. Photo supplied

Cambodia’s Facebook crackdown: Police are monitoring site for ‘enemies’ and ‘rebel movements’

National Police are monitoring Facebook to repress attempts to create a “rebel movement against the government” through negative posts and are working to better control civil society groups that have “opposition trends” and try to cause instability in society, a semiannual police report issued yesterday says.

The 15-page report, launched by National Police Chief Neth Savoeun at police headquarters in Phnom Penh, says authorities have noticed an uptick in the spread of information aimed at unfairly discrediting the government or creating social “chaos”.

The report’s dire tone and seeming conflation of civil society and the opposition with “the enemy” is reminiscent of recent, widely criticised rhetoric warning of civil war – and even purges – in the event of an opposition electoral victory, with one observer warning that such stringent monitoring of social media was inherently undemocratic.

The report says that police have “noticed the tricks caused by the enemy, which still continues to attempt to cause social chaos and attacks … to create a rebel movement against the government, most prominently through the use of Facebook”. It adds, however, that such a movement has so far been stopped from taking hold.

As well as combating such purported ploys, the National Police are now aiming to “strengthen technical capabilities to control information from all parts of civil society, especially groups with opposition trends . . . to weaken their influence, and get rid of the incitement tricks that break national unity and try to cause social insecurity and chaos”, the report adds.

Speaking at the meeting, National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said that the police were not in principle against the use of social media websites like Facebook, but were growing worried that some were using the site for nefarious purposes.

“His Excellency [Neth Savoeun] has noted some remarkable points regarding recent crimes – for example, the use of social media to poison the social atmosphere and to shock and cause chaos,” Chantharith said, decrying posts that “exaggerate . . . and twist situations and cursing this or that person, and also the senior leaders”.

“The National Police are not pessimistic or negative about the growing number of people in society using technology to disseminate [information], as that shows our country has development . . . but people do not all have equal knowledge.”

Chantharith clarified that “not all information is true”, and accused “bad people” of trying to cheat others. He said the police were working to actively monitor social media for such poisonous posts.

“We have increased the capability of the technical department that works on tracking this, which is called the anti-cyber crimes [department] . . . and will assign these forces to pay attention to all information that is negative and that violates the law, to send to our police to investigate and crack down,” he said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak declined to comment on how specifically the National Police have been monitoring social media for offending posts, but said it was a simple task. “It’s easy to do . . . because we have the department of intelligence,” Sopheak said, identifying the “enemy” mentioned in the report as “the one who sees the prime minister’s position as belonging to him”.

“The enemy is the one who says that he will take power in 2018,” he added, in an apparent reference to the opposition.

A number of people have already faced jail for Facebook posts. A woman was arrested this month for alleging on her profile that Prime Minister Hun Sen was behind the murder of political analyst Kem Ley. Former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who lives in self-exile, was also handed a 20-month sentence for making the same claim on his page.

Spokespeople for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party could not be reached yesterday. However, Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor at rights group Licadho, questioned why the police were monitoring social media so closely.

“When all information disseminated through technology and websites are checked and controlled, how can they say this is a democratic country?” Sam Ath asked, also slamming the proposal to manage civil society ahead of the national election due next July. “There is no need to control information from civil society, and this should be considered a restriction on freedom of expression. This is not a good system.”

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