The Court of Appeal on Thursday upheld a lower court decision finding opposition leader Sam Rainsy guilty of defamation over his claims that the ruling party ordered officials to buy fake “likes” for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Facebook page.
The case centered on a leaked message from government minister Som Soeun to other party officials ordering them to encourage the page’s popularity, which Mr. Rainsy posted on his Facebook page on March 9.
Mr. Rainsy claimed the messages proved a mass CPP effort to support the page via fake Facebook accounts, an accusation shot down in a lower court’s November ruling that found Mr. Rainsy guilty of defamation.
The November decision ordering Mr. Rainsy to pay a fine of 10 million riel, or about $2,500, and compensation to Mr. Soeun of 15 million riel, or about $3,750, was correct, Presiding Judge Samrith Sophal said on Thursday at the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh.
Mr. Soeun cheered the verdict, boasting that the prime minister’s page is “the most popular in Cambodia.”
“In the past, Sam Rainsy nicknamed himself ‘Facebook Prime Minister,’ but then he lost his Facebook position,” he said, noting that Mr. Hun Sen’s page now has more than 6.8 million ‘likes.’
Almost half of those supporters come from countries like India, the Philippines and even Brazil, which is home to almost 140,000 of the prime minister’s fans, according to the web analytics site Socialbakers. The prime minister’s page is the third-most liked Cambodian page if only domestic fans are counted, according to the site.
The proliferation of far-flung fans has led to accusations by Mr. Rainsy and others that Mr. Hun Sen bought fans from “click farms” that employ impoverished people overseas to create fake accounts and “like” pages.
Mr. Rainsy’s defense attorney, Sam Sokong, called on Thursday decision “unacceptable” and said he would discuss next steps with his client.
“I think his comment and post falls under freedom of expression that is enshrined in the Constitution and international human rights law,” Mr. Sokong said.
(Additional reporting by Ben Paviour)