Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Meta Rejects Recommendation to Suspend Hun Sen for Inciting Violence

Former Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Facebook page, on August 31, 2023. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)
Former Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Facebook page, on August 31, 2023. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)

Meta rejected the recommendation of its Oversight Board to suspend former Prime Minister Hun Sen from the company’s platforms for inciting violence. Cambodian government officials celebrated the announcement and said Meta’s representatives are permitted to resume their work in the country. 

“This decision confirms the truthfulness of the information published on Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen’s official Facebook page,” a Tuesday statement from the Telecommunications Ministry read. “Congratulate Meta Platforms Inc. for the fair judgment.” 

In June, the Oversight Board overturned Meta’s decision to leave up an incendiary video Hun Sen posted in which he threatened to use “a stick” against his political opponents. Along with this binding ruling, it also published recommendations including a six-month suspension of the then prime minister’s Facebook and Instagram accounts.

“Upon assessing Hun Sen’s Facebook Page and Instagram account, we determined that suspending those accounts outside our regular enforcement framework would not be consistent with our policies,” the company said in its response posted Monday.

Meta did not respond to CamboJA’s emailed requests for comment.

“We stand by our original decision,” said an Oversight Board spokesperson in an email. “The Board recommended a suspension given the severity of the violation, Hun Sen’s history of committing human rights violations and intimidating political opponents, and his strategic use of social media to amplify such threats.”

Meta has implemented or committed to implement a majority of the Board’s 230 recommendations to date, according to the spokesperson. 

Hun Sen deactivated his Facebook in June hours after the board’s recommendations were first made public. But just a few days before Cambodia’s July election, Hun Sen’s Facebook account was reactivated, and his social media assistant Duong Dara claimed that he would be the one running the page. 

After hearing about Meta’s decision not to suspend Hun Sen, Dara told CamboJA on Wednesday that he would now give the page back to the former prime minister. 

“I believe this is a good time to give this page to Samdach [Hun Sen] to use,” he said. “As the person who created this page, I don’t want to give this page to Samdach when it has problems. I want this page to be a good page.”

Dara claimed that the recommendation to suspend Hun Sen was political and biased. He said he believes Meta rejected the suggestion because it saw the “true value” and “social benefit” offered by Cambodian leaders on social media.

Meta also rejected one other recommendation made by the board to update the policy on restricting public figures when citizens are facing government retaliatory violence. Meta said the recommended change “could be detrimental to people’s ability to access information from and about their leaders,” noting that in Cambodia Meta’s “platforms serve as an important source of independent news” and are “essential to freedom of information.” 

The Cambodian government made similar arguments in July when it barred the 22 Oversight Board members from being in the country, stating that the recommended suspension “intends to obstruct the freedom of the press for the citizens of Cambodia and the right to receive credible news from a leader.” 

This year the government has revoked media licenses and ordered internet providers to block independent media outlets. 

Company representatives are now allowed to continue their work in Cambodia, after the government said they would be expelled in June. But Telecommunications Ministry spokesperson Liv Sophanarith said the 22 members of the Oversight Board are still not welcome in the country because they “meddled in Cambodia’s domestic affairs” and their “recommendations were political in nature.”

Cambodian People’s Party spokesperson Sok Eysan said that Meta’s decision showed that Hun Sen did not violate any human rights or community standards policies.

“It revealed that Samdach is not as guilty as they [the media] have accused him of,” he added.

Government spokesman Pen Bona declined to comment.

The digital rights group Access Now said in a statement that Meta’s decision implicitly encouraged incitement to violence.

“Meta’s decision to not suspend Hun Sen’s accounts sends a dangerous signal that his rights-abusing speech will be tolerated on its platforms,” stated Golda Benjamin, the group’s Asia-Pacific campaigner. “Hun Sen has repeatedly abused both online and offline media to intimidate and threaten political opposition and civil society. The general elections of July have passed, but it does not mean that Hun Sen’s incitement will.”