Police Look to Thwart Festival Thieves Through Facebook

Authorities in Phnom Penh will post photos of suspected thieves on Facebook during the city’s three-day Water Festival next week in order to alert people and help catch offenders, National Police said in a statement on Friday.

A prominent legal expert, however, said the plan was unconstitutional, as it branded suspects as being guilty without a trial.

“We will post photos of suspected thieves, bag snatchers or other swindlers on Facebook,” deputy National Police commissioner Touch Naruth said in a statement published online, explaining that the resource may be used to protect revelers.

“They have [their] smartphone in hand, and they can check and see and be careful, and report to the authorities when they see the suspects that they saw on Facebook,” the statement said.

Lieutenant General Naruth said the technique was part of wider additional security measures to be employed during the celebrations, which are estimated to draw a crowd of up to 2 million to the capital.

He said there would be more than 10,000 security personnel—including 5,028 police officers, 2,127 state bodyguards, 1,180 military police officers and 350 navy officers—deployed during the festival, which runs from November 13 to 15.

Lt. Gen. Naruth encouraged festivalgoers to be alert, and particularly careful of their personal belongings. Bag-snatchers and pickpockets have long taken advantage of the packed streets and dense crowds during Water Festival.

“Even though there will be strict measures and forces, we still cannot protect everyone,” he said. “One competent official cannot protect one person alone…. Each person can become a competent official that can protect themselves and provide information to authorities.”

Sok Sam Oeun, a prominent human rights lawyer, said that although there was no specific law prohibiting authorities from posting photos of suspected thieves online, the practice infringed on people’s basic right to a fair trial.

“If he’s only suspected—he’s not convicted—we don’t actually know,” if the person is a thief, Mr. Sam Oeun said. “People have rights.”

If City Hall went through with the plan, he said, it would demonstrate their disrespect for the letter of the law.

“If they do that, then they show that the government—authorities—they do not care about the constitutional rights of the people,” he said.

Neither Lt. Gen. Naruth nor National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith could be reached for comment.

(Additional reporting by Hannah Hawkins)

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