Cambodia: PM’s threats against women Facebook users irresponsible and dangerous

Responding to comments made during a speech by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday, and the police’s publication of an apparently coerced "confession" by one woman today, Amnesty International’s Regional Director Nicholas Bequelin said:

“Hun Sen’s assertion that women are to blame for sexual violence and human trafficking due to their choice of dress on Facebook is a despicable and dangerous instance of victim-blaming. This rhetoric only serves to perpetuate violence against women and stigmatize survivors of gender-based violence.

“The Prime Minister’s order to track down and ‘educate’ women represents a menacing application of the state’s surveillance apparatus to advance a discriminatory and patriarchal agenda. Facebook must refuse to cooperate with any discriminatory requests by the Cambodian authorities to block women’s profiles.

“The coerced moral ‘education’ of women by police is inherently arbitrary. None of these women have been accused of breaking any law, and the police appear to be acting solely on the basis of Hun Sen’s personal whim.

“These developments underscore the dire state of freedom of expression in Cambodia. In recent years, the Cambodian authorities have increasingly weaponized internet surveillance to target human rights defenders and opposition supporters based on their Facebook posts and communications.”

 BACKGROUND

During a speech to the Cambodian National Council for Women 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. A representative of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications reportedly responded by stating that the Ministry will ask Facebook to block the profiles of women alleged to be engaging in these practices.

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” them, suggesting that it has the ability to track them down based on their online activity.

On 19 February, the Commissariat of Phnom Penh Municipal Police posted a video to Facebook stating that a woman named Thai Sreyneang had been “brought” to Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork police station for “education”, where she signed an agreement to stop wearing “revealing” clothing on Facebook. In the video, Thai Sreyneang can be seen apologizing for wearing clothing “which disgraces Khmer traditions” and “affects the honour of Cambodian women”.

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”.