Forged letters purportedly signed by SRP boss Sam Rainsy (L) and Prime Minister Hun Sen have been making their way around the internet . . . and local newsrooms. Photograph: supplied
Forged correspondence may be nothing new to Cambodia’s political scene, but a recent spate of letters making the rounds on the internet – and in newsroom email accounts – show the tactics are getting dirtier and more insidious, analysts said yesterday.
The recent letters, which touch on an array of political issues, have provoked outrage and denials from their intended targets, opposition and ruling party alike, after being published on pro- and anti-government websites and shared on social media sites like Facebook.
“We see things like cut-and-paste pictures on the internet used to disparage the prime minister, but these falsified official documents lately are really a kind of dirty politics,” political analyst Lao Mong Hay said yesterday.
“This kind of negative practice of creating negative rumours really affects public opinion and causes confusion,” Mong Hay said.
On August 4 and 5, two falsified letters regarding border issues, one bearing a forged Hun Sen signature and one with a forged stamp and signature of National Assembly president Heng Samrin, were circulated.
National Assembly secretary-general Leng Peng Long hit back three days later, slamming the falsified documents as a “cheap and unscrupulous trick” intended to “poison the present societal climate”.
On August 5, a letter with the forged signature of Prime Minister Hun Sen addressed to Senate president Chea Sim’s chief bodyguard, Yim Leang, was circulated among local and social media.
In the letter, “Hun Sen” wrote that he was sorry he did not allow the news of Chea Sim’s death to spread to the media sooner because he needed “a suitable time to make real stability”.
At the time, the rumours caused a news cycle flurry – which was precisely the detrimental effect intended, Mong Hay said.
“It is this sort of practice here of campaigning all year round, where politics are overly politicised – and that is where the focus is, not on the actual public affairs.”
Another fake letter, sent to the Post by a person or group calling itself “Khmer Political Information” on Sunday, was addressed to opposition Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha from self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy, purportedly calling off a highly publicised merger between the two parties because Rainsy’s legal status as a convicted criminal meant he would be unable to run for prime minister.
Sokha, who is currently in the US, published a retort yesterday, rejecting the fake letter as defamatory.
Ruling Cambodian People’s Party senior lawmaker Cheam Yeap told the Post many CPP members saw the fake letters as attacks against the stalwart party.
“Our three leaders are defamed and victimised by bad people,” he said. “I think there is no one else who could have made those letters besides groups who oppose the government, because my CPP members numbering more than 5.5 million would not do this.”
He said the government is now searching for the producers of the fake letters to take legal action.
If found and convicted, the forgers would face up to 10 years in prison, legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said.
“It is a serious felony to fake public documents or signatures,” Sam Oeun said, recalling a conviction for falsifying the stamp of the prime minister’s office several years ago.
“A person would have to have very bad faith to be faking [stamps and signatures].”
Although fake political documents are hardly a first in the Kingdom, there had been a sharp increase in their frequency and sophistication, election monitor Koul Panha said.
“Maybe it is some old politicians using the new media because they still use the old tricks,” Panha said, calling the practice a “joke”.
“The parties have played with each other before by doing this, but I think now it will not work,” he said, pointing out that the new generation of social media users are more discerning.
“They try to play with the current political situation, and I think it comes from both sides. But it might affect the political climate if they are always joking around.”
“Khmer Political Information” did not immediately respond to questions from the Post yesterday.