Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened to take legal action against opposition party activists on Thursday after a doctored photograph surfaced on Facebook showing his wife, Bun Rany, standing with her legs apart.
The premier’s threat, delivered in a post to his personal Facebook page, again exposed his deep sensitivity to public mocking and ridicule as he has begun to embrace the social media website.
Earlier this week, Mr. Hun Sen posted several photos of his family vacationing in Sihanoukville to celebrate the New Year. On Thursday, he shared the doctored photograph on his page, saying he was furious to see the image and rude comments.
“Unfortunately, there are a number of individuals from the opposition party’s extremist [side] who tried to change my wife’s picture through the computer’s Photoshop program,” he explained in a post accompanying the photo.
“As seen [in the photo], the tile was curved because they pulled apart my wife’s legs making it look inappropriate and then they attacked [her].”
In the image, Ms. Rany stands behind her grandchildren with her feet planted about shoulder-width apart. Accompanying the picture is a screenshot of a Facebook page where it was allegedly posted, on which a user named Haknuman Leung wrote: “What!! Cambodia’s First Lady stands like that for photograph!! Such a bad example for Cambodian women! [De]cho look at your wife!!”
The original account, named after the monkey god Hanuman, appeared to have been deleted on Thursday, but featured a photograph of a young Sam Rainsy posing in front of a Cambodian flag. Mr. Hun Sen said “opposition party activists” were to blame for the “cheap trick” and vowed to take them to court.
“All actions that ruin my honor and my family’s honor, as a prime minister of a country, those must be responsible before the law,” he wrote.
As Mr. Hun Sen has scrambled in the past year to raise his social media profile—his page currently has almost 1.7 million “likes,” compared to almost 2 million for Mr. Rainsy’s page—he has also frequently lashed out at those who insult him.
On Monday, during a speech at a graduation for students from the Royal University of Law and Economic, Mr. Hun Sen advised youth not to use insulting words on social media, saying he could arrest them within seven hours. The prime minister named one of his detractors, who had posted a comment on his page asking whether the premier would “chase the Yuon out of the country.”
“I replied: I hope nephew knows how to use decent words better than this,” he told the students.
“If I want to take action against you, we will get [you] within seven hours at the most. And there is no need to send [forces] from Phnom Penh since local forces are ready all time,” he said. “So do not play by using insulting words.”
While many have questioned whether such threats are an infringement on free expression, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan defended Mr. Hun Sen’s tough words on Thursday.
“I saw the picture too and I think that it’s a serious insult that critically affects individual rights, especially those individuals who are the nation’s leaders,” he said.
“Freedom of expression should not be practiced by violating other people’s rights.”
CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrith denied that any opposition party activists had been involved in creating the offending image.
“We don’t want to respond to this thing since it’s not a national issue and CNRP activists are just focused on doing the party’s job,” he said. “We don’t have time to do such useless things.”