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Cambodia expels Facebook reps after PM deletes account

Government accuses social media giant of irregularities and dissemination of false information, but doesn't block platform
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) waves to supporters on July 1 during a rally for the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) ahead of the upcoming election in Phnom Penh. Cambodians go to the polls on July 23

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) waves to supporters on July 1 during a rally for the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) ahead of the upcoming election in Phnom Penh. Cambodians go to the polls on July 23. (Photo: AFP)

Published: July 03, 2023 10:17 AM GMT

The Cambodian Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications has expelled all Facebook representatives and ordered the US-based firm to halt all activities inside the kingdom.

The ministry said it reviewed the social media giant for irregularities, including the creation of fake accounts, use and collection of private data, dissemination of false information, lack of accountability and transparency, and interference in the political affairs of the country.

“In this regard, the ministry decided to expel Facebook representatives from Cambodia and stop all activities such as company representation, government relations, and private sector partnerships in the kingdom from now on," it said in a statement on July 1.

The order, issued late June 30, is effective immediately following Prime Minister Hun Sen’s decision on June 29 to delete his Facebook account before its suspension due to a breach of community standards.

However, the ministry said Hun Sen had decided not to shut down Facebook operations in Cambodia “due to citizens' demands.” 

Media houses that are already blocked in Cambodia include Radio Free Asia, which publishes outside of the country, and local outlet Voice of Democracy, which was ordered closed in February.

Hun Sen ordered his staff to delete his Facebook account after an independent Oversight Board from parent company Meta recommended his six months suspension over a video post where he threatened to have his opponents beaten.

Hun Sen had 14 million followers on Facebook. However, speculation has persisted that many of them were acquired through click farms.

The decision was announced as official campaigning began for the July 23 general election which only Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) could win after the main opposition Candlelight Party (CLP) was disqualified from contesting it.

“Given the severity of the violation, Hun Sen’s history of committing human rights violations and intimidating political opponents, as well as his strategic use of social media to amplify such threats, the Board calls on Meta to immediately suspend Hun Sen’s Facebook page,” it said.

The Oversight Board’s ruling also applies to his Instagram, also owned by Meta, account and related to an hour and 41-minute speech by Hun Sen in January, where he responded to allegations that the CPP stole votes during the 2022 commune elections, when the CLP won 22.5 percent of the overall vote share.

Hun Sen announced earlier this week that he was switching from Facebook to a Telegram channel, a cloud-based messaging app, and opening a TikTok account, a popular Chinese-based social media platform.

But, as thousands of CPP and government officials paraded through Phnom Penh in a show of support, Hun Sen warned there were numerous fake TikTok accounts bearing his name and likeness and asked Cambodians to avoid them by scanning the QR code of his official account.

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