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Cambodia bans 22 Facebook Oversight Board members

Nobel laureate and a former Danish PM are among 22 Meta people declared persona non-grata
Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Tawakkol Karman, is among 22 members of Facebook’s Oversight Board to be banned by Cambodia after they recently called for the suspension of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s social media account

Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Tawakkol Karman, is among 22 members of Facebook’s Oversight Board to be banned by Cambodia after they recently called for the suspension of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s social media account. (Photo: AFP)

Published: July 05, 2023 04:55 AM GMT
Updated: July 05, 2023 07:12 AM GMT

The Cambodian government has hit back at Facebook by declaring 22 people from its parent company’s Oversight Board persona non-grata after they called for the suspension of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s social media account.

The list included Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman from Yemen and former Danish prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt. None of those named on the list were believed to be in Cambodia.

Hun Sen had deleted his Facebook  account before it could be suspended and expelled the company’s representatives from the country. 

On July 4, the government upped the ante by naming 22 members of Meta's Oversight Board and issued further bans.

A statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed the Oversight Board intended “to obstruct the freedom of the press for the citizens of Cambodia and the right to credible news from a leader whom they support and admire.”

The ban decision was made to “prevent the interference in the internal affairs of Cambodia” and as such all 22 “are barred from entering or remaining in the Kingdom of Cambodia” and “are required to leave Cambodian territory within 48 hours.”

The Oversight Board, a quasi-independent review board set up three years ago by Meta, recommended Hun Sen’s six months suspension from Facebook and Instagram over a video posted where he threatened to have his opponents beaten.

In the video, the prime minister calls on his political opponents — who alleged votes were stolen during last year’s commune elections — to choose between the “legal system” and “a bat,” adding they can choose the legal system, or he “will gather CPP [Cambodian People’s Party] people to protest and beat you up.”

He also mentions “sending gangsters to [your] house,” and says that he may “arrest a traitor with sufficient evidence at midnight.”

Cambodians are gearing up for a July 23 election, a poll that only Hun Sen and his long ruling CPP can win after the disqualification of the opposition Candlelight Party and a six-year crackdown on dissent.

Opposition politicians, journalists and activists have fled into exile or faced stiff jail terms on charges ranging from incitement to treason. Among them is Kem Sokha, the former leader of the outlawed Cambodian National Rescue Party, who is serving a 27-year sentence.

Hun Sen, an autocrat who intends to hand power over to his eldest son after the election, has alleged numerous plots had been hatched in recent years — with the backing of foreign powers — designed to oust him and his government.

The most recent was on June 24 when he accused an unnamed opposition group of plotting to kidnap him and warned he was prepared to sacrifice up to 200 people in order to maintain peace.

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