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Government may probe NEC critics

NEC officials show results to the press during a recount last week in Phnom Penh. The body has called for action to be taken against Facebook pages critical of its conduct in recent commune elections.
NEC officials show results to the press during a recount last week in Phnom Penh. The body has called for action to be taken against Facebook pages critical of its conduct in recent commune elections. Hong Menea

Government may probe NEC critics

The Ministry of Interior confirmed that it would take action against social media users who criticised the National Election Committee following the commune elections, but only if the NEC filed an official complaint.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak first made the comments on a radio broadcast on Sunday, and confirmed the ministry’s stance to The Post yesterday.

The NEC published a letter on June 13 calling for legal action to “stop and crack down on these crimes” of publishing “inciting” content that defames the election body.

“It was an open letter from the NEC. If there is a direct letter from the NEC to the Ministry of Interior, it would be easy for us to take action,” Sopheak said in a phone interview, adding that the Interior Ministry would only open an investigation, not decide “what is right or wrong”.

The NEC’s statement specifically named Facebook pages KM Khmer and Real News as the perpetrators.

A June 5 post from KM Khmer, whose account resembles a personal profile but is followed by nearly 17,000 people, questioned the vote counting process, saying that a result “released in Vietnamese language” had declared a CPP victory in 1,163 communes, despite the NEC not having finished announcing the results.

“But local monitor said according to the result they received, CPP got 48 percent, CNRP got 45 percent,” the user wrote.

Though the CNRP did win 45 percent of the popular vote, this wouldn’t determine its commune seat totals.

Another post attacked the NEC for attributing votes the CNRP won in one Kampong Cham commune to the small Beehive Party. The NEC later fixed the mix-up, citing an error.

Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodia Institute of Media Studies, said the two posts were “case[s] of exercising freedom of speech and expression, which is guaranteed by the constitution”.

Nariddh acknowledged that spreading misleading information could be an issue, but said it is more important to foster a culture of expression in Cambodia.

“They do not understand the ethical obligation,” he said of amateur journalists, adding that “public interest outweighs ethical mistakes”.

“While we try to encourage the public to express opinions . . . we also need to educate them. But, any legal action must be proportionate to the crime,” he said.

Repeated calls to NEC spokesman Hang Puthea were not answered yesterday.

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