A 29-year-old man from Kampong Cham was interrogated yesterday following his arrest last week – on his wedding day – for calling the Cambodian government “authoritarian” in a video clip posted to Facebook.
The arrest is just the latest involving online dissent, with human rights groups saying free speech is now “under daily threat” by Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
Mean Prom Mony, provincial investigator with Adhoc in Kampong Cham, said San Rotha was arrested by provincial Military Police on February 8 over a warrant accusing him of “public insult of the leader and public defamation”, adding that Rotha’s arrest took place at 7am while he was taking a shower before getting married in Poipet.
Prom Mony added that Rotha was interrogated by a prosecutor on Saturday and Sunday, as well as by a judge on Sunday.
Huot Vuthy, spokesman for the Kampong Cham Provincial Court, said Rotha was not only being questioned for alleged public insult, but for incitement as well, though he wasn’t able to specific the charges.
“We are interrogating [him] and I don’t know whether [the case] will be dismissed or not,” he said.
While the original Facebook post couldn’t be located on Rotha’s profile yesterday, the video clip was widely shared in October, just a month before the Cambodia National Rescue Party – the country’s only viable opposition in this year’s scheduled national election – was forcibly dissolved at the government’s behest.
“I want to inform the people and people supporting [the] CNRP to stand up again, and please do not be scared by all the actions and intimidations of some authoritarians,” Rotha says in the clip. “If you do not stand up and unite together, we will not get loose from the devil’s hand.”
He goes on to say that “corruption cannot win over the people’s solidarity power”.
“We know already that the authoritarian people [want] to gain victory, they use all the strategies and mind games, and they try to act in all forms to undermine the CNRP supporters’ mind,” he says.
Keo Oun, Rotha’s sister-in-law, said Rotha had recently returned from working in Thailand and was getting ready to get married when he was taken by Military Police.
“The Military Police forces handcuffed [him] and [took] him into the vehicle, and his mother was crying,” she said. “The Military Police said that they would just educate him and would release him six months later because he apologised and promised to stop playing on Facebook.”
Phil Roberston, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said “freedom of expression is now under daily threat by Hun Sen and his minions”.
“Pro-government trolls are especially on the look out for critical commentary on Facebook and other online forums because that is the one source of information that the government can’t fully control,” he wrote in an email, calling on the international community to “publicly denounce these tactics” and decline to recognise this year’s election “charade”.
Paul Chambers, a lecturer at Naresuan University in Thailand, said for years the Cambodian government has made threats against government critics who use social media or other means to express their opinions, “but since last year, astride intensifying authoritarianism, Cambodia has entered a growing climate of fear”.