Responding to reports that Facebook vendor Ven Rachna (also known as Thai Sreyneang) has been charged with offences related to pornography and sent to pre-trial detention, Amnesty International’s Regional Director Nicholas Bequelin said:
“These transparently trumped-up charges are an affront to gender equality and make a mockery of the rule of law. The arbitrary nature of Ven Rachna’s arrest and the discriminatory abuse of her freedom of expression represent a troubling regression in the state of women’s rights in Cambodia.
“At a time when the Cambodian government is boasting of its human rights record this case reveals the cruel reality of repression and discrimination facing many in Cambodia today.
“These charges rest on the abusive misapplication of a law which was supposedly intended to combat human trafficking, but instead is being used to oppress women. Ven Rachna must be released immediately and all charges against her dropped.
“Gender-based violence and inequality plague Cambodia, and this case only makes a bad situation worse. Instead of demonizing and harassing women who try to make a living online, the Cambodian government should be addressing the root causes of its appalling record on women’s rights.”
On 21 February 2019, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged Ven Rachna (also known by her Facebook moniker Thai Sreyneang) with “Pornography” under Articles 38 and 39 of the Law on Human Trafficking, in addition to “Exposure of a Sex Organ” under Article 249 of the Criminal Code. She was then sent to pre-trial detention in Phnom Penh’s CC2 prison. The combined charges could result in up to 15 months’ imprisonment.
On 19 February, Ven Rachna was brought to Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork police station where she signed an agreement to stop wearing “revealing” clothing on Facebook. In a video posted to Facebook by the police, she apologises for wearing clothing “which disgraces Khmer traditions” and “affects the honour of Cambodian women”.
Ven Rachna was later released but subsequently re-arrested after posting again on Facebook. She was questioned at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday and then detained overnight at the Tuol Kork police station before being brought back to the court and charged on Friday.
During a speech on 17 February 2020, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the authorities to take immediate action against women who allegedly wear “revealing” clothing while selling products in Facebook Live streams. Hun Sen stated that the women are eroding Cambodian cultural values and that such behaviour is to blame for sexual violence. The Prime Minister further ordered government authorities to find these women and “educate” any women found to engage in such practices.
The UN CEDAW Committee’s recent report on Cambodia highlighted the high concentration of women in the informal employment sector in Cambodia due to gender inequality, and stressed concern at the harmful “[s]ocial norms that justify gender-based violence against women and girls and blame the victim rather than the perpetrator, and the high prevalence of such violence, in particular domestic violence, as well as rape”.