Police said on Tuesday that they will pick up members of a Facebook group involved in the “Clean Fingers Campaign” that promotes a boycott of next month’s national elections.
However, police merely planned to “educate” the group for now, but warned that if the group continued its activities, the authorities would be forced to take legal action.
National Police spokesman Kirt Chantharith said the force will seek out the group which is actively looking for others to join its election boycott.
He emphasised that “we will seek them out in order to educate them directly, as such actions are illegal”.
Chantharith said: “The campaign attempts to persuade others. Under the law, it is the equivalent to preventing people from voting. Posting messages meant to provoke people not to vote is illegal.”
Article 142 of the Law on the Election of Members of the National Assembly says it is illegal to “deter” citizens from registering to vote, or to cause “confusion resulting in the loss of confidence in the election”.
“If they don’t intend to stop people from voting, then why did they post such messages? Whether members of the group vote or not is their business. But it is illegal for them to appeal to others not to do so.
“We will assign police officials to go and educate them that such actions are illegal and must not continue. But after doing so, if the group still continues with their actions, then the law will not tolerate it,” Chantharith said.
The Facebook group’s actions come on the heels of former opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s call for Cambodians to boycott the elections, claiming it is fake and illegitimate due to the absence of a viable opposition party.
Meanwhile, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) distributed a leaflet saying that Rainsy’s actions were an attempt to destroy the Kingdom to serve the ambitions of foreigners.
A Facebook user named Som Raksa posted a picture of himself sleeping in a hammock on Tuesday and wrote: “On 29 July, busy with sleeping, cannot go to vote” next to another picture entitled “29 July 2018 Clean Fingers Campaign” .
“Clean Fingers” refers to the name Rainsy gave to his boycott movement, which in turn refers to the ink on a finger one receives after voting.
Another Facebook user named Ma Chetra wrote on Monday: “[I] am not happy with the dissolution of the CNRP and the dissolution of commune council and lawmakers.
“Seeing that it is too unjust, I decide not to go to vote, if [you] want to continue to abuse, it is up to you.”
Long Bota, former lawmaker of the court-dissolved CNRP who lives abroad, said on his Facebook page on Monday that voting “means you let the regime of Hun Sen continue to destroy the country”.
Ou Chanrath, another former CNRP lawmaker, wrote on his Facebook on Thursday last week that, “Not going to vote is not illegal. Threatening people to go to vote is illegal. Without CNRP, I will not go to vote.”
Sam Kuntheamy, the executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, expressed support for the authorities’ action to educate people first.
He said it was a good move before taking legal action against Facebook users who posted messages and pictures calling for an election boycott.
However, he defended the Facebook messages and pictures, claiming that “they are just an expression of free speech and wouldn’t cause problems”.
Kuntheamy said: “First, we should educate people who post such messages so they become aware of the consequences and legal challenges they face.
“After that [authorities] can take legal action in accordance with the law, even though it does not explicitly say that any activity related to stopping people to vote is illegal. It’s a matter of interpretation.”
He said such messages on social media have no effect. It is just the opinion of an individual or small group. “No one is forcing others to follow what they say,” Kuntheamy said.