A social media scandal involving purported chats between the prime minister’s youngest son, Hun Many, and several women reached new heights yesterday, when the Facebook page of a major television network run by Many’s sister was also hacked to disseminate the intimate exchanges, which have raised questions of potential violence against women.
Despite repeated inquiries from The Post since the initial emergence of the exchanges – which have been distributed by an anonymous hacker – Many, who is also a lawmaker, and his representatives have declined to publicly address the chats, which contain images of women with severe bruises. While the contents of the chats have not been independently verified, social media users have been quick to criticise Many, and a former opposition parliamentarian has publicly called on him to explain himself.
YouTube videos that purportedly reveal the contents of Many’s Facebook chats with women were first anonymously disseminated to members of the media on February 16 and soon found their way onto social media, with users criticising what they charactised as abuse, though the messages’ veracity has not been confirmed and the women in the chats do not make overt allegations of assault. Former CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua, long an advocate for women’s rights, issued an open letter calling for clarification last week, which has gone unanswered.
Many’s office at the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia (UYFC) pre-emptively issued a statement on February 15 saying the lawmaker’s Facebook pages had been hacked the day before, writing: “We would like to inform to the public that since then, any information disseminating on [the pages named] Hun Many and Hun Mani are not from him and his team.”
Repeated requests for comment from Many since Thursday have been unsuccessful. A representative at UYFC, who declined to give his name and title, said a request for an interview must be made in writing. A formal written request was delivered by The Post by courier on Friday morning, and has since gone unanswered.
Khai Nyka, a receptionist at UYFC, said yesterday that her office was “following administrative procedures” and she would check up on the letter, but added “usually it takes more than a week to [reach] His Excellency Hun Many”. On Monday, someone answering a message sent to Many’s phone said the letter still hadn’t been received, despite the hard copy having been accompanied by a digital copy sent to and received by the same number on Thursday. Calls and messages to Many’s phone yesterday went unanswered.
In two of the purported conversations, women post pictures of their badly bruised arms, for which Many appears to apologise. In multiple exchanges, Many and the women discuss “biting”, and at least one of the bruises appears to show teeth marks. The conversations, however, at times have a flirtatious tone, and do not contain direct allegations of wrongdoing.
One of the women appears to work for UYFC, of which Many is president, and she refers to him in the messages as “boss”. The prime minister’s son is also the youngest lawmaker in the National Assembly, representing the province of Kampong Speu.
In one conversation, a woman says the bruise allegedly inflicted on her is “a gift for you”, followed by a laughing emoji. She then adds: “but I want to say it hurt”, followed by a crying emoji.
“As long as you are happy today,” she writes, “a little bit of pain, it’s not important.”
In another chat, when one woman sends a picture of an apparently bite-shaped bruise on her arm to Many, he asks who did it.
She replies, “is you”, after which Many sends an emoji expressing shock. When she says she is sad, he asks her what would make her happy, to which she responds: “I will be happy until my scar is recover.”
The ambiguity of the exchanges was also acknowledged by women’s rights advocates, who added that it was nonetheless incumbent on Many to explain them.
The CNRP’s Sochua, in her appeal to Many to address the rumours, said the videos circulated on social media suggested violence against women.
“I am very concerned about the safety, dignity and reputation of Cambodian women, which are named in the video and messages. Therefore, to protect the reputation, dignity and safety of women named in the video, I urge Your Excellency to elaborate clearly about the incident,” she said.
She also noted that in the past when women have been exposed as having affairs with senior or high-ranking Cambodian officials, they were “victim[s] of cruel acts, such as acid attacks and shooting”.
In 1999, actress Piseth Pelika was gunned down in broad daylight after she was accused of having an affair with Prime Minister Hun Sen, while teenage karaoke video star Tat Marina was doused in acid, allegedly by the wife of Svay Sitha, then an undersecretary of state.
Sochua later said she wrote the letter for the “security and safety of women”, and pointed to the global #MeToo movement, in which women have come forward to denounce the sexual harassment or sexual violence they experienced at the hands of men abusing their positions of power.
Many himself has been a vocal campaigner against gender-based violence, and in 2015 he was a prominent attendee of a dance ceremony at Wat Botum Park marking the end of a 16-day worldwide campaign to end violence against women.
Gender academic Kasumi Nakagawa warned the leaks could be fabricated to attack Many ahead of the upcoming election – with “sexual scandals” more salacious and eye-catching than corruption allegations, she said – but said only Many would know for certain.
“Only he could tell the truth,” she said. Noting Many has taken “a leading role to promote women’s rights”, she added in an email that she did “not want to believe [these] rumors”.
One woman mentioned in the leaks, Na Sady, a television host at Bayon – which is owned by Many’s sister, Hun Mana – went public with a denial on February 17.
“I, Na Sady, would like to deny the news that I am having a love affair with His Excellency Hun Many,” she wrote. “I and His Excellency are just ordinary friends, nothing else.”
She did not, however, address the veracity of the contents of the messages. While The Post has not been able to independently confirm the overall authenticity of the messages, it was able to verify that two phone numbers listed in one of the chats were indeed legitimate.
One of the women purportedly messaging Many, Zorida Duong, appeared to be arranging for young models to attend dinner with Many. She answered the number shown in the messages, but hung up when asked if she was friends with Many.
“I have nothing to answer about this news, because it is fake news,” she said when called back. “They just involve me in politics.”
A number listed in the same thread of chats as belonging to her sister was also answered and confirmed as correct.
However, another phone number revealed in the supposed leak did not belong to the person mentioned, though a person who answered the phone at that number said he knew the woman in question.
In its statement announcing the hack, Many’s union said it had filed a complaint to the Ministry of Interior calling for an investigation. Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said that matter was in the hands of the National Police, adding that his ministry would not be investigating the rumoured violence against women.
“We don’t care about that, because this Facebook page has been hacked by someone,” he said.
“It should be the proper complaint from the plaintiff. If we do receive, we will investigate [if there are a] reasonable amount of complaints.
“It is only the publication of the opposition party, trying to defame Hun Sen’s family,” he added.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs did not respond to a request for comment. Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday described the case as “an alleged matter”.
“I do not want to put my nose in it,” he said. “It is Hun Many’s issue, nothing to do with the government.”
The Post reached out to several other women named in the purported Facebook chats, none of whom responded.
While Many has maintained his silence since the UYFC’s original message, chatter about the leaked chats has been stoked by the hacking of other pages, on which articles related to Many’s scandal have been posted.
Yesterday, Bayon TV had its Facebook page hacked, according to Sao Phirun, head of news. After the hack, the text of an email sent to journalists about the allegations, including YouTube links to the purported Facebook chats, was published on the BTV page.
“Our BTV Facebook was hacked this early morning. But the same day we already occupied the page. We already filed a complaint to the Ministry of Interior,” Phirun said. “I have no idea why they posted the same messages about His Excellency Hun Many.”
The Facebook page of English-language newspaper Khmer Times was also hacked, according to Group Managing Editor Sonny Inbaraj Krishnan. “We are still NOT in control of our Facebook page. That’s all we can say now,” he said in an email.
Three posts – two about the Hun Many allegations and one about his father, Hun Sen, threatening to beat Australian protesters if they burned his effigy – have been on Khmer Times’ Facebook page since Thursday night.
Khmer Times Publisher T Mohan, on his personal Facebook account, slammed the hackers as “low lives” who wanted to “defame [and] impersonate”.
Barely touched by local media, the chats have caused a stir on Khmer social media platforms and seemingly divided the public.
One Facebook user called for Many to resign as a lawmaker, describing his behaviour as “sexually abusive”. “[It is] very disgusting and cannot be accepted,” they wrote.
Another said: “We write and report the articles because we want to protect women not to get cheated like you”.
One described Many as “such a gangster to hurt women”.
Others, however, commented that the women involved wanted to “get rich fast”, or suggested that it was their “personal choice”.
But Sochua remained adamant that safety of women was paramount and said questions of consent in such a situation – where a power imbalance is evident – was “an assumption that men use . . . [and that] criminalises the victims”.
“To say that there’s consent when it comes to gender violence is putting the blame on the victims,” she said in a message.
“Gender based violence is all about unbalanced power. There’s no such thing as consent when the victim and the perpetrator [are] not on the same power footing.”