Opposition leader Sam Rainsy was found guilty on Tuesday of defamation for claims that Prime Minister Hun Sen and his social media team purchased Facebook “likes” from so-called “click farms” overseas in order to bolster his apparent support.
Mr. Rainsy was ordered to pay a 10 million riel (about $2,500) fine and 15 million riel (about $3,750) in compensation in a decision handed down by Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Im Vannak.
Som Soeun speaks to reporters outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in March after being questioned over a complaint he filed against opposition leader Sam Rainsy over fake Facebook ‘likes’ claims. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily) Judge Vannak also said the decision would be broadcast for three days through the media, though it was not immediately clear how this would be enforced.
The judge said that Mr. Rainsy had damaged the honor of Som Soeun, a government minister involved in the premier’s social media outreach efforts who filed the lawsuit.
He did not say whether the court had investigated the veracity of the claims that the ruling party had purchased fake likes, but said that a message from Mr. Soeun instructing party members to help boost Mr. Hun Sen’s online popularity had been manipulated by Mr. Rainsy.
The CNRP president currently faces a two-year prison sentence over a separate defamation case, but was officially exiled from the country last month. He said in an email on Tuesday morning that he stood by his claims.
“On the basis of a (leaked but subsequently confirmed) secret instruction from the CPP central headquarters…I stand by my initial statement that CCP-affiliated government officials and other state employees have been instructed to create fake Facebook accounts in order to provide fake ‘likes’ to Mr. Hun Sen’s Facebook page,” he wrote.
“I also confirm that Mr. Hun Sen has also bought millions of fake ‘likes’ from ‘click-farms’ located in many countries all over the world,” he added.
The Phnom Penh Post initially called attention to the geographical oddities among Mr. Hun Sen’s Facebook followers. An article published on March 9 showed that in the previous month, only 157,331 of about 779,000 new fans on Facebook had accounts based in Cambodia. Most of the new likes came from India and the Philippines, where click farms are known to operate.
The government’s Counter-Terrorism Committee released a five-page report later that month contending that the claims that Mr. Hun Sen was buying Facebook popularity were “completely twisted.”
“The number of ‘likes’ were clarified to be real supporters including Cambodian people and supporters from abroad; no money was spent to buy ‘likes,’” the report concludes, offering little in the way of explanation for the surge in foreign affection.
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