Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out yesterday at what he said were opposition-aligned Facebook users for spreading “fake news” concerning his death and rumoured ailments – telling the opposition to keep its members in line or face the consequences.
Speaking to graduating students from the Royal University of Law and Economics, Hun Sen launched into a long-winded speech saying rumours about him being taken to a hospital in France or Singapore, or news of him dying in a plane crash, were being spread largely by members of the opposition – warning them of playing a dangerous game that would backfire.
“I want to send this to the opposition party that has the supporters who do such a thing,” the premier said. “The danger might be on yourself.”
“If you pray for Hun Sen to die, you will be in danger first. It is the burial land for all of you,” he said.
He went on to warn that the opposition stood to gain nothing from his death anyway, insinuating that his firm hand on the tiller was the only thing preventing a military takeover.
“That is the dangerous point for all of you, since they still can order their armed forces and their units,” he said of the army, imagining a hypothetical situation in which he died unexpectedly, before quickly adding that he was just seeking to “control rumours . . . that could scare the people”.
He then pivoted to the recent online hysteria in which multiple Facebook users have spread spurious stories, often with racist undertones, of people abducting children and harvesting their organs, saying these rumours were not benefitting anyone.
While a CNRP activist and teacher was arrested over the weekend for making such spurious claims, another Takeo resident, Ly Chhaya, was arrested on Monday for posting a video claiming that his niece had been followed, allegedly by two Vietnamese nationals with the intention of abducting her.
Chhun Sareth, a deputy provincial police chief, said Chhaya’s video created panic among parents and that he had been sent to court yesterday. “The information he spread caused chaos in the village, it made students not want to go to school. I have no information on what the court decided,” he said.
Regarding the premier’s remarks, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann declined to comment, saying that it was unclear which opposition party the prime minister was referring to.
“We don’t know who he targeted, because there are many opposition parties,” he said.
Political commentator Cham Bunteth, meanwhile, said that while it was not the responsibility of the opposition to control every member and activist, a statement condemning such activities could potentially shield them.
“If they do this it will strengthen the party, but if not they can then face such accusations,” he said, adding that the government should also focus on convincing citizens of the falsehood of such stories rather than making threats to the opposition.