In the latest arrest of a Facebook critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen, a woman in Poipet City has been taken to court for calling the premier “a traitor” in response to a post on the social network by government mouthpiece Fresh News, officials said.
Mao Linda, 31, was arrested at her house in the Banteay Meanchey provincial border town after making the comment on Friday, according to Sith Luos, deputy provincial police chief.
“To say it precisely, it is related to insulting, scorning and defaming publicly,” Mr. Luos said.
The case against Ms. Linda is just the latest in a series of prosecutions against the country’s netizens in recent months, suggesting a lowered tolerance for any online criticism of Mr. Hun Sen.
Written under Fresh News’ Facebook post about the U.S.’ bombing campaign in Cambodia in the 1970s, Ms. Linda accused Mr. Hun Sen and his family of selling off the country’s land.
“Cambodia cannot accept Hun Sen’s family selling the land of the former king [Norodom Sihanouk],” Ms. Linda wrote, before branding the premier “a traitor.”
Under questioning at the provincial police station, Mr. Luos said Ms. Linda had admitted that she wrote the disparaging remarks.
“She confessed that it is her account that she was using regularly,” Mr. Luos said, adding that the former casino worker claimed she was “dissatisfied” with the prime minister. “She just started [using Facebook] and as she saw others swore, she then followed others to swear,” he added.
Ms. Linda was being questioned at the provincial court on Monday, according to the court’s spokesman Roeun Lina.
Often those accused are charged for crimes including defamation and incitement after criticizing Mr. Hun Sen on Facebook.
Political analyst Ou Virak, head of the Future Forum think tank, warned that people were often mistaken to think that anything they said or wrote on social media was free speech without consequences.
“They don’t really dare to talk outside, but on Facebook they dare too much. This is an issue,” he said.
Last week, Sourn Serey Ratha, head of the Khmer Power Party, was handed five years in jail over Facebook posts critical of the premier and military leaders. A woman was charged with the same crime last month for accusing Mr. Hun Sen of being behind political analyst Kem Ley’s murder last year in a live Facebook video.
In February, a 27-year-old migrant laborer was sentenced to two years in prison over a Facebook post threatening the life of the prime minister. Ven Sopheap, from Prey Veng province, made two posts, including writing alongside a video: “Hun Sen oy, today is the day of your death.”
He claimed not to know that such Facebook posts were illegal.
In one of the most high-profile cases, student Kung Raiya was sentenced to 18 months in jail in March last year after calling for a “color revolution” on the social network. The political science student, 26, was arrested while walking to class at Phnom Penh’s Khemarak University.
Mr. Virak said that people have to take responsibility for any activity on social media.
“Opinions on Facebook or spoken publicly via radio or other forms of social media, are the same, meaning it requires responsibility,” he said.
“There is law that allows the restriction, if it is incitement or violent or making a death threat, they should be arrested,” he added.
Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun agreed that Facebook users needed to be careful when expressing critical views about the government online and should not be drawn into a false sense of security when observing how other countries allow wider freedom to denounce their leaders.
“We have rights to expression, but in the law, it can’t affect the national security and reputation of others. Some others saw on Facebook that in other countries people insulted or criticized their president. They thought that they could do it like others,” Mr. Sam Oeun said.
With a widening of the definition of national security, social security and affecting the reputation of others, “the freedom to express becomes smaller,” he added.