The ever-active Facebook account of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen appeared to be deleted on Friday, a day after Facebook parent Meta’s oversight board recommended suspending his account on the platform for threatening political opponents with violence.
The showdown is between the social media giant and one of Asia’s longest-serving dictators.
Hun Sen, 70, has ruled Cambodia since 1985, maintaining power in part by silencing critics. He is a staunch ally of China, whose support does not raise the alarm over the value of human rights and democratic institutions, as the United States does.
A note posted on Friday by Mr Hun Sen’s account, which has about 14 million followers, said its content “not available nowIt is not clear whether Meta suspended the account or whether Hun Sen preemptively deleted it, as he vowed to do on Thursday night on Telegram, a social media platform with a smaller follower count. much.
“It is his private right to stop using Facebook,” Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan told The New York Times on Friday. “Other Cambodians use it too, it’s their right.”
The company-appointed Meta Oversight Board on Thursday respected Hun Sen’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, which Meta also owns, have been suspended for at least six months. The committee also said Hun Sen’s Facebook video violated Meta’s rules on “violence and incitement” and should be removed.
In the video, Hun Sen delivered a speech in response to allegations of vote-stealing, calling on political opponents to choose between the legal system and “bats”.
According to Meta reports, Hun Sen said in his speech: “If you say this is freedom of speech, then I will also send people to your place and home to express my freedom.”
Meta previously decided to keep the video online under a policy that allows the platform to allow content that violates Facebook’s community standards, citing the video’s newsworthiness and public interest. But the oversight board said on Thursday it would overturn the decision, calling it “incorrect”.
It added that it recommended the suspension of Mr Hun Sen’s account for at least six months, given the gravity of the abuses and his “history of human rights abuses and intimidation of political opponents, as well as his strategic use of social media to amplify such behaviour” , which is reasonable. threaten. “
Meta later said in a statement that it would remove the offending video to comply with the board’s decision. The company also said it would respond to the suspension recommendation following its analysis.
Critics of Facebook have long said the platform can undermine democracy, fuel violence and help politicians unfairly target critics, especially in countries with weak institutions.
Mr Hun Sen has cracked down on the news media and political opposition for years to cement his grip on power. In February, he ordered the closure of the country’s last independent news outlet, saying he did not like its coverage of his son and presumed successor, Lt. Gen. Hun Manai.
Under Hun Sen, the government has also pushed for greater government surveillance of the internet, a move rights groups say makes it easier for authorities to monitor and punish online content.
Mr Hun Sen’s large Facebook following may have exaggerated his actual support. In 2018, Sam Rainsy, one of his most prominent political opponents, argued in a California court that the prime minister had used so-called click farms to amass millions of fake followers.
Rainsy, who is in exile, also argued that Hun Sen used Facebook to spread fake news and death threats against political opponents.court later rejected his request Facebook was forced to release the ad buying records of Hun Sen and his allies.
In 2017, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party led by Mr Rainsy was dissolved by the country’s Supreme Court. Most recently, Cambodian authorities disqualified other opposition parties from running in next month’s general election.
At a public event in Cambodia on Friday, Hun Sen said his political opponents abroad must be happy with his decision to quit Facebook.
“You have to be aware that if I order Facebook to shut down in Cambodia, it will have a strong impact on you,” he added at an event for garment workers ahead of the election. “But that’s not the path I’ve chosen.”