The Ministry of National Defence condemned a lesser-known social media commentator for allegedly falsifying military uniforms and ranks, and for insulting government leaders as well as senior military officials including Hun Manet, deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF).

Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat called for legal action against Long Sokunthearak, whom he dubbed a “bad individual and societal outcast”, and for all compatriots not to share his video on social media.

“We strongly condemn Long Sokunthearak for falsifying the military uniforms and ranks of senior Cambodian officials and releasing insulting videos that are seriously harmful to the reputation of [Manet] and other leaders,” he said.

Socheat said Sokunthearak was in the ministry’s view guilty of incitement, illegally wearing military uniforms and undermining the security and dignity of the RCAF.

“I strongly oppose anyone who seeks to undermine the honour and dignity of the RCAF. We pledge to defend the Constitution, protect the legitimate government and peace of Cambodia,” he stated.

Hun Many, a senior member of parliament and the younger brother of Manet, also took to social media to condemn Sokunthearak.

“This is an unacceptable insult. As a brother, this arrogant, baseless and obscene statement touched my own feelings and emotions as a member of the same family,” said Many, who is also president of the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia (UYFC).

“I call on the authorities to take legal action against this criminal who dared to wear a military uniform illegally and use baseless words that seriously affect the honour of individuals and our national institutions,” he added.

Sokunthearak, who appears to be living abroad, released a video in response on January 24. He said he mentioned in a previous live video that he had purchased the military uniform from a market and was not representing himself as an actual general in the RCAF.

He said his previous video was political satire and that he simply wanted to express his criticisms of Prime Minister Hun Sen and Manet.

“If I said in the video that I am in the RCAF, then I would be wrong because that would mean I’d disguised myself as an RCAF official, but I did not say that I am an RCAF official. I only said that my “three star rank” is from my own sweat as I had to earn the money to buy it,” he said.

After posting the January 24 video, Sokunthearak also wrote a message addressed to defence minister Tea Banh. “I ask all ministry leaders to commit themselves to their mission of national defence of all the people. Please do not use national institutions to protect certain families and factions,” he said.

Deputy National Police chief Chhay Kim Khoeun could not be reached for comment on January 24.

Yong Kim Eng, president of the People’s Centre for Development and Peace, said dialogue is permitted in a democratic state. However, he cautioned that words by social media users have led to divisions, racism, political violence and hatred in other countries and contexts, all of which could have the same bad consequences for the goal of national unity, solidarity as well as national dignity.

“I understand that all of this should be done with appropriate explanations by not using any words that could lead to hateful or misleading information for the public,” he told The Post.

Chhot Bunthong, head of the Culture, Education and Tourist Relations department at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said it is not suitable to use fake military uniforms to insult others and then claim that it is political advocacy. He called it immoral and a violation of the law.

“In a democratic country which abides by the rule of law, everyone must respect the law and assist social morality. Any individual or institution that violates these must be punished, no matter whether they are ordinary people or a civil servant,” he said.

Bunthong observed that social media has recently become a platform for verbal attacks, slander and false accusations. All of these, he said, are a concern no matter whether they are related to business, personal issues, family issues or politics. He added that even small comments on social media can lead to social immorality due to “freedom of expression without borders”.

“You can do your advocacy, but you should do it in a way that is reasonable and has a basis and evidence and you must avoid insults,” he urged.