On Feb. 8, 2018, Sam Rainsy, leader of the newly launched Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM), launched a legal case with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, to seek information from Facebook regarding what he calls Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s abuse of the company platform to mislead Cambodians. On Feb. 12, Sam Rainsy spoke with RFA Khmer Service reporter Vuthy Huot via Skype from Australia where he is conducting a political campaign to seek support for the CNRM.
RFA: Do you have any update regarding the status of your lawsuit? Also, has there been any response from Facebook?
Sam Rainsy: Facebook has acknowledged the fact that I had submitted a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, requesting the court to demand that Facebook disclose proof, information, and any related records regarding the Facebook page of Hun Sen. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California had received my request via my lawyers. We strongly hope that Facebook will not remain quiet over the matter and that it will have to agree with my request by disclosing information [confirming] that Hun Sen has employed dishonest tricks to mislead Cambodians into believing that he enjoys great popularity,so that he can use this as a basis for further suppressing his own citizens.
Also, I have to defend myself, because the court in Cambodia, at the request of Hun Sen and his ruling party Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), have charged me with defaming Hun Sen and with incitement. Earlier, I listened to a report from RFA, and I learned that some of our citizens have also been subject to accusations or are being sued because they are protectors of land-grab victims, or of forests and natural resources. Just because they dare to speak out to defend the interests of the nation and their fellow citizens, these people have also been subject to accusations of defaming or inciting. Their cases could possibly result in arrest or jail sentences.
Yet, I’m lucky because I can contact lawyers outside Cambodia, for example in the U.S., to ask Facebook to confirm that I have spoken the truth. I have not defamed anyone, nor have I exaggerated any point at all. Hun Sen is a dishonest person. He employs Facebook to mislead people, both Cambodian citizens and the international public. I have to defend my case, that I was sued by them for revealing the facts, so that they can no longer unfairly accuse me.
I have also filed a second case in the U.S. regarding the murder of [slain government critic] Kem Ley. I claimed that no one but Hun Sen's government could have been behind that murder. I have also been sued in regard to this matter. Other people who have made the same claims as I did have also been subjected to similar lawsuits. I was convicted [in absentia] and hit with jail terms and several fines. But I can still seek the truth so that I can show these sentences were unfair. I submitted a motion with a district court in the U.S. in the state of California to require Chevron, the owner of the Caltex service station where Kem Ley was shot to death in 2016, because that company may possess evidence from that service station that they can now disclose to confirm that what has been revealed so far by Cambodian authorities is not sufficient. I am calling for justice, not just for myself but for the Cambodian people as a whole. Cambodian citizens share my understanding about corruption and murder cases in Cambodia, and about the fact that poor, weak, and honest people are being treated unfairly.
RFA: You have said that the lawsuit is aimed at getting Facebook to disclose evidence. What evidence do you want them to disclose, since anyone can access the SocialBaker website and see how many of those who "like" Hun Sen’s Facebook page actually come from Cambodia, or whether they live in India, the Philippines, or other countries. That website has already revealed that most of those who "like" Hun Sen’s Facebook page are in India or the Philippines. What other evidence does Facebook have that you want from them?
Sam Rainsy: Other records exist, and only Facebook retains those kinds of records. No one knows more clearly than Facebook how Hun Sen has distorted the facts, how he has invented so-called "likes," from which countries they have come, and how much money he spent on getting them.
I have also been sued for claiming that Hun Sen's government has used corrupt money, state money, and money gained by exploiting the hardship of citizens to buy advertisements from Facebook so that Facebook further promotes Hun Sen’s Facebook page. Hun Sen has spent U.S. $15,000 per day [just to promote himself on Facebook], so you can imagine how much he spends each month and year. It could not be less than several millions of dollars. This kind of expense would win my applause if he used it to support our citizens. But this is just spending to inflate a false popularity so that Hun Sen has a pretext to further suppress his citizens and engage in more corruption. We can never forgive him. We must definitely seek the truth. Facebook is an independent company. They have no reason to be afraid of Hun Sen.
RFA: After the news about your lawsuit came out, some newspapers reported that just because some people "like" Hun Sen’s Facebook page does not mean that they support him. Instead, they click "like" on Hun Sen’s Facebook page just to get information about his political campaign or his other activities. What is your reaction to this?
Sam Rainsy: There are many cases that we must clearly distinguish from each other. We cannot over generalize. The first issue is that Hun Sen has purchased false likes. There are private companies skillful in creating false or artificial likes. One just has to pay money to purchase them. And Hun Sen has used state money to buy them. Artificial likes have been purchased from various countries ranging from India and the Philippines to Mexico and Brazil--countries where no one knows Hun Sen or would bother to view the profile on his Facebook page. Hun Sen has done this to show off his Facebook page. This is such a dishonest act.
Another thing is that in Cambodia people are used to create fake Facebook accounts, with each person hired to create several fake accounts. And each of these fake accounts will then be used to "like" Hun Sen’s Facebook page, or to "like" anything that he has posted, or to use the site to attack other groups or individuals who dare to oppose Hun Sen. There is also a new technological trick whereby people who just view the profile on Hun Sen’s Facebook page have their names used as if they had clicked "like" on the page. Those people did not click like on the page at all. They simply viewed his page. And Hun Sen is not the only who has employed this trick. Other people also do it. In this regard, So Facebook must reveal the truth, because such acts go against their code of conduct. If we want justice, we need to seek the truth.
As for the other issue that you mentioned, that people click "like" just to monitor his information though they don’t actually like Hun Sen himself, nothing is wrong with doing this. These will also be counted among the number of likes. Hun Sen’s Facebook is ranked third as the most popular Facebook page in the world, and this is happening only because of his dishonest acts.
Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Edited in English by Richard Finney.