Interior Minister Defends Facebook Post Arrests

Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Wednesday laid out the limits to freedom of expression in Cambodia, highlighting two recent arrests over Facebook posts and what he claimed was a thwarted plan by the CNRP to burn effigies of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Speaking about security at a seminar in Phnom Penh, Mr. Kheng noted the recent arrests of a man who called for a “color revolution” on social media and another man who made online death threats aimed at a prominent academic currently researching Cambodia’s border with Vietnam.

The interior minister said that the government has promoted the constitutional right to expression and assembly, but drew a line when the use of those rights “violated other people’s rights and honor.”

“For the color revolution, it will make bloodshed and therefore it will destroy national security and peoples’ peace and lives and property,” Mr. Kheng said, referring to the arrest last month of Kong Raya, 25, who in a post to his Facebook page asked others to join him in a color revolution.

“If there are threats to lives and there is no action from [authorities] to prevent it, it would be a mistake,” he said, referring to the arrest earlier this month of Phong Seiha, 27, who threatened to “shoot the head” of academic Sok Touch in a Facebook post.

“If the authorities do not take action, it means the authorities are not being responsible,” he said. “Critics say it is the right to expression. Therefore, let the legal experts and Ministry of Justice look into this.”

Mr. Kheng also recalled a time when he said the government learned that the CNRP was planning to create and destroy effigies of Mr. Hun Sen.

“On that day, they planned in the afternoon to hang the effigy and drag it along the public road and burn it,” Mr. Kheng said, without giving a specific date of the alleged plans.

The interior minister said he reached out to U.S. Ambassador William Todd to relay a message to opposition leader Sam Rainsy that such actions would not be tolerated.

“Cambodia has not yet reached that culture,” Mr. Kheng said. “He [Mr. Todd] reached a compromise on this issue and then our side didn’t take action and withdrew our forces.”

The U.S. Embassy declined to comment on Mr. Kheng’s claims.

Mr. Rainsy said the scenario presented by the interior minister was absurd.

Asked if the CNRP ever had plans to burn an effigy of Mr. Hun Sen, Mr. Rainsy said: “Never.”

“This is ridiculous and stupid,” he said. “I think [CPP leaders] have nothing else to do but accuse the CNRP and its followers of trying to do this or that.”

(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)

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