Two opposition officials were arrested for insulting the king on Sunday, as the Information Ministry revealed it had recorded 145 cases of insults, fake news and messages that “polluted society” in just one month, both online and elsewhere.
A ministry report provided to VOD on Monday says that in September alone, authorities noted 22 cases of incitement related to the country, border issues and improper images of Angkor; 83 insults against the king, senior government leaders and Buddhism; 19 news items that “polluted society”; and 21 infractions on TikTok where users committed incitement or insulted senior leaders.
The report adds that online, the problematic messages were expanding from Facebook to other platforms.
“The enemy is turning to take their attack to posting on other social media like YouTube, Twitter and TikTok. For this issue, the working group [must] find a way to communicate with the ones who control these social media,” it says.
Ministry spokesperson Phos Sovann said several government bodies — including the information, telecommunications and interior ministries — worked together to monitor and respond to the cases.
Each institution weighed up the information that people have disseminated based on how it has impacted society, its consequences, whether they have done it once or twice, and whether it was intentional or unintentional.
For online posts, authorities usually then notified telecom companies to block pages and websites, but “for some pages or Facebook accounts that aren’t clear, we can send [the case] to the Interior Ministry to take action with their expertise,” Sovann said.
On Sunday, that meant the arrest of two former CNRP officials in Battambang province.
Ly Hov, the nephew of one of those arrested, said that his uncle Hang Seng had been lured into his arrest.
A man in civilian clothes came to their house in the rain on Sunday morning, and told them the district police wanted the construction workers to do some gardening work for them at the station, according to Hov.
The pair waited at the station for about half an hour, and an officer called Seng into a room.
“When he got out, I saw him in handcuffs, and I was shocked because they had asked us to do work,” Hov said. “It’s difficult. I’m speechless. [The officer] said he was involved with some little political issues, and after being questioned for a few days he would be released.”
Hov said he had initially welcomed the offer of some work. “We took our tools, including a tape measure,” he said. “When we see a job coming, we have to go and get it. … We survive day by day with this work.”
He added that he was initially told Seng was sent to the provincial police headquarters. But after the family failed to find him there, district police told them he was in Phnom Penh.
“Now we haven’t heard anything from the authorities and we don’t know how he’s doing.”
Sangke district police chief Sun Sovann deflected responsibility for the actions to both the provincial and commune police.
Provincial authorities took the lead, and the district just cooperated, he said. As for telling the uncle and nephew they would be gardening, that was a commune officer.
“[The officer] said the district police wanted to meet, and it could be that he asked [them] to do the gardening,” Sovann said.
Sam Sokong, a lawyer for the CNRP, said the two arrested men were Seng and Kong Bunheang, both former provincial level party members in Battambang.
Sokong said the arrests came amid a string of court summonses against opposition officials in several provinces in recent weeks that was putting pressure on former party members.
“This is persecution against CNRP activists,” Sokong said. “Some are already on the run to escape police arrest.”
National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun said the two men had been charged with insulting the king. Cambodia passed a lese majeste law in 2018.
Kim Khoeun said he did not know where the two men had made their insults, whether on Facebook or elsewhere.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson Kuch Kimlong said the court was now handling the case, with prosecutors questioning the defendants.
The arrests of Seng and Bunheang mark at least 45 arrests of activists, opposition supporters and other vocal critics this year. The CNRP was outlawed in 2017, and the government has frequently called its supporters rebels and criminals.