Cambodian PM Hun Sen threatens to block Facebook access

Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened to suspend Facebook access in Cambodia on Friday, after the company announced it would remove a video in which he threatened to beat up political opponents.

The warning came ahead of a July 23 election largely regarded as a sham after authorities refused to register the main rival to Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

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Facebook confirmed Thursday that it would remove one of Hun Sen’s videos in accordance with a judgement by Meta’s Oversight Board, which also suggested that his account be deactivated.

His speech comprised “unequivocal statements of intent to commit violence” against opposition leaders, according to the judgment.

Hun Sen, who had been a frequent Facebook user, declared Thursday night that he had stopped using the platform and appeared to have deactivated his account.

Hun Sen told garment workers in Pursat province on Friday that he may block Facebook in Cambodia “for a short period or forever” at any time to prevent exiled opposition politicians from contacting with people in the nation.

“Don’t be arrogant, you guys are staying overseas, you are using Facebook for communications, we could block Facebook,” he said, appearing to address exiled opponents.

He then urged Cambodians to download other social media platforms, including Telegram, TikTok, Line, Viber and Meta-owned WhatsApp.

Hun Sen also accused Facebook of turning a blind eye to “insulting” remarks made by opponents against his wife and eldest son Hun Manet, who is largely regarded as groomed to take over the country’s leadership in the future.

The Oversight Board, whose decisions are binding, recommended on Thursday that Hun Sen’s Facebook and Instagram accounts be suspended for six months because of a video he made in January in which he threatened opponents with legal action or a beating with sticks if they accused his party of vote theft in July’s national elections.

After several hours, Meta announced that it will comply with the judgment to remove the video.

“We will conduct a review of all the recommendations provided by the board in addition to its decision, and respond to the board’s recommendation on suspending Prime Minister Hun Sen’s accounts as soon as we have undertaken that analysis,” it said in a statement.

Hun Sen is one of the world’s longest-serving leaders, having been in power for 38 years.

Hun Sen’s Facebook page was established in 2015, following the success of his opponents, particularly exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy, in reaching out to younger voters on the network.

The Cambodian prime minister now uses the Telegram app to communicate with supporters and TikTok to interact with young people.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) claimed on Thursday that the incident was a “long overdue face-off between Big Tech and a dictator over human rights issues.”

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