The Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday found Cambodian National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy guilty of defamation for claiming Prime Minister Hun Sen and his social media team artificially bolstered the premier’s “likes” on Facebook.
Rainsy was convicted of defaming Som Soeun, a CPP official attached to the prime minister, by accusing him of ordering CPP members and state employees to create “fake accounts” to like the premier in a Facebook post on March 9.
The complaint also concerned Rainsy’s accusations that Hun Sen had purchased “likes” from “click farms”, operations in which low-paid workers create fake accounts to help bolster likes, followers and views on social media profiles.
Presiding judge Im Vannak said the “ill-minded” opposition leader, who fled abroad last year to avoid arrest in a separate case, had damaged Soeun’s dignity and confused the public.
“The fault cannot be excused, because the accused is an adult, a politician, and he has not been deterred,” said Vannak, who ordered Rainsy pay Soeun $3,750 in compensation and pay an additional $2,500 to the state in fines.
In a seemingly unprecedented ruling, Vannak also ordered that the decision be broadcast via local media for three days, but did not explain how such an order would be enforced.
The incriminating post by Rainsy highlighted a Post story in March that revealed that 80 per cent of the premier’s Facebook “likes” in the preceding month had originated abroad, with the CNRP president alleging the followers had been bought from “click farms”.
Alongside this, Rainsy published a set of instructions from Soeun directing CPP members to promote the premier’s Facebook page at “all meetings”, ensure all members “like” his page and “unlike” Rainsy’s page, and to organise “technical working groups” to create accounts to “like” Hun Sen.
The opposition leader said the instructions showed the CPP was pushing its “officials, supporters and networks – including civil servants, policemen and soldiers” to create “fake accounts” to bolster the premier’s Facebook popularity.
During the hearing, Soeun acknowledged he had issued the directive for CPP members to encourage them to follow the premier’s page. However, he said he took issue with Rainsy’s “exaggeration” that the instructions amounted to creating “fake accounts” and applied to civil servants, police and soldiers.
Soeun also said he was compelled to complain because of the click farm remarks.
“What he said affected the dignity of Samdech Techo [Hun Sen] and . . . my dignity,” he said.
Rainsy’s defence lawyer, Sam Sokong, however, questioned whether any real damage could be attributed to Rainsy’s post, noting his client’s right to freedom of expression.
“There is no harm to the victim,” said Sokong, who later flagged his intention to appeal.
Meanwhile, Rainsy yesterday said that he stood by his posts.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen has been manipulating Facebook figures in order to boast about his (apparently impressive but fake) popularity, which he uses as a political justification to legitimise the ongoing violent crackdown on his more and more numerous critics,” he wrote.