Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan on Wednesday threatened criminal proceedings against Facebook users who insult or defame government leaders in apparent violation of the new so-called “culture of dialogue” between the ruling and opposition parties.
In a post to his own Facebook page titled “A Letter Regarding Prejudiced and Unethical People,” Mr. Siphan claimed that some Facebook users have recently been abusing the freedom of expression they find online.
“In recent times, I have noticed that there have been some people who have used social media to use words that are rude, insulting, scornful, exaggerating and defaming toward civil servants,” Mr. Siphan said in the post.
“Insults and defamation are stated in the Criminal Code of Cambodia [as offenses] and carry serious sentences under the law,” Mr. Siphan continued. “Insults and libel do not exist as part of the freedom to express opinions, but instead violate the rights and the dignity of individuals who respect all national and international laws.”
“We will take any action, technical or legal, in order to maintain freedom and dignity in online use,” Mr. Siphan said.
Reached by telephone, the government spokesman said he was particularly concerned by ethnic insults from supporters of the opposition, who often accuse the government of continuing to serve the interests of Vietnam.
“They say publicly that Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong is Vietnamese, that the first lady [Bun Rany] is a daughter of the North Vietnamese…and even myself they paint as Vietnamese,” Mr. Siphan said.
“We just want the people to fine-tune their language as we promote the culture of dialogue. The punishments are already prescribed in the criminal code,” he said.
Under articles 305 to 308 of the criminal code, instances of defamation or insult can be subject to fines from 100,000 to 10,000,000 riel, or about $25 to $2,500.
Asked further what type of “technical” actions the government could take against people who write insulting Facebook posts, Mr. Siphan said that the government would ask Facebook itself to close down offending accounts.
“We have to talk to the Facebook company to delete or block people who offend. We block them, and find who is the owner,” Mr. Siphan said.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann declined to comment on whether the opposition party supports Mr. Siphan’s call to punish people who insult government leaders as part of the “culture of dialogue.”
“Without seeing the content I cannot comment,” he said. “There are a lot of articles on Facebook— some are good, and some are not. However, if it is just normal criticism, this is what democratic society is about.”
Pang Sokhoeun, who runs the nationalist Facebook page “Khmer Sovannaphumi,” defended the use of ethnic insults against Cambodian government leaders and said he doubted Mr. Siphan’s warnings would have much effect.
“They know who Mr. Hor Namhong is, but they have called him as Vietnamese basing on his recent statement,” Mr. Sokhoeun said, referring to a recent letter in which Mr. Namhong said a disputed plot of land on the border of Tbong Khmum province belongs to Vietnam.
“It is like a Cambodian local slang to label any government officials who do not serve the interests of the country but foreign countries,” Mr. Sokhoeun said.
“Such a warning and threat won’t appease the anger of the people and stop future insulting, but it will burn more anger and lead to stronger insulting,” he said of Mr. Siphan’s letter.