Cambodia's embattled justice system and its alleged tight alignment with the ruling party have been thrust into the spotlight after what appeared to be a string of hacked emails were leaked from Justice Ministry spokesman Kim Santepheap’s account over the weekend.
Santepheap yesterday confirmed he had fallen victim to a hacker, as had the Ministry of Justice Facebook page, which uncharacteristically broadcasted images from the opposition campaign rally on Saturday.
“Yes, my email has been hacked by the hacker . . . right now, the police department is checking,” he said.
When Santepheap was shown screenshots of the emails, he maintained the hacker could have meddled with his documents to “make confusion” and insisted they were false.
“The hacker can hack into my email account, therefore the hacker can do whatever he wants to when the email reaches his hand. So all the data I would like to deny; it is not true.”
Released the same weekend as political rallies that kicked off the official commune election campaign season, the purported emails shed light on a different election period, in 2013.
The Post was able to independently verify some of the files contained in the emails, such as an August 8, 2013, letter from Interior Minister Sar Kheng to then-opposition leader Sam Rainsy, warning him against protests and demonstrations.
But not all the contents of the emails could be similarly verified yesterday.
The bulk of the correspondence centres on the “Cyber War Room (CWR) strike team”, which was created in 2014 by the Council of Ministers and Press and Quick Reaction Unit to monitor Facebook and other websites for the purpose of protecting the government. Some of the emails exchanged contain an assortment of memes aiming to slander the opposition via social media.
One of the most damning emails, if true, refers to spreading “information/disinformation” about the impending return of “SR”, presumably a reference to Rainsy, who was in self-imposed exile but landed on Cambodian soil ahead of the tight 2013 polls.
The email discusses the need to “justify the arrest of SR” and to paint him as a lawbreaker, not as a hero or victim. Another document appears to be a frank review of the much maligned Justice Ministry, which acknowledges the cycle of corruption and nepotism and suggests ways to improve transparency.
If genuine, the emails would appear to implicate the Prime Minister’s son, Hun Manet, who surfaces as a correspondent. Manet would only respond to reporters’ questions yesterday via WhatsApp.
“Hehe . . . do you think I wrote those letters?” he wrote, adding a “laughing crying” emoji.
Rainsy, contacted yesterday, said the email involving his arrest was from “[d]espicable CPP agents whose only ambition is to become experts in spreading false information and manipulating people”.
“We also know that any CPP official wears two hats, working for both the party and the state at the same time. The state apparatus is used as a tool to serve the former communist party’s interest.”
Social analyst Meas Ny said the symbiosis between the justice system and the party came as no surprise, citing long held criticisms about the judiciary’s lack of independence.
“The Justice Ministry got manipulated a lot . . . [They] appear to be on the side of the CPP rather than . . . [serving] justice in the country,” he said.
He added that the justice system needed to show it could work independently to “move in the right direction”.