The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has issued a warning of legal action against traders and online sellers who use photos of Cambodian artefacts on social media to promote the sale of art objects.

The use of photographs of ancient artefacts which have been returned to the ministry could create misconceptions among foreign authorities and private collection owners, and may suggest a lack of government regulation of such items, said the ministry’s September 4 notification.

According to the notice, recent observations by officials reveal that some traders and online sellers have been advertising art object sales via social media using images of ancient Khmer artefacts in the possession of the ministry.

“Using archival photographs in this manner is a misdemeanour and a deceptive practice that misleads the public,” the notice explicitly states.

“Furthermore, this behaviour may confuse foreign authorities and former owners of private collections of Khmer artefacts repatriated to Cambodia into falsely believing these items are being traded in the open market due to inadequate government protection,” the notice underscored.

This situation could seriously hinder the process of recovering Cambodian artefacts and undermine confidence in the government, which has diligently worked to locate and have illegally removed objects of Cambodian cultural heritage returned.

Through the announcement, the ministry stressed: “We call upon all traders and online sellers engaged in this enterprise to immediately cease. In the event of continued illegal activity, the ministry will take necessary actions in accordance with existing laws”.

Chhort Bunthong, head of the Culture, Education, and Tourist Relations department at the Royal Academy of Cambodia (RAC), supported this ban, asserting that it aligns with cultural preservation laws.

He noted that cultural heritage should be safeguarded, and the trading of the nation’s antiquities should not be contemplated or tolerated.

He stated that these artefacts are rare items that have existed for hundreds and thousands of years, and handling or selling them is not acceptable.

“Traders, artists, painters, and sculptors should exclusively market their own sculptures, paintings, and images without presenting Khmer artefacts in misleading ways, which could cause both national and international confusion about the possibility of trading artefacts. I endorse the ministry’s ban,” Bunthong concluded.