Cambodian Government Critic Arrested for Facebook Post
A Cambodian government critic who was beaten up by assailants last year has been arrested on charges of incitement and defamation after posting a social media comment that criticized a cabinet minister.
Ny Nak, who sells fertilizer and fruit trees from the capital Phnom Penh, was arrested on Friday after Minister of Labor Heng Sour filed a complaint against him for a comment he made on Facebook, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported over the weekend.
According to the local human rights group Licadho, Nak said that the Facebook page in question referenced the government’s decision to give away 91 hectares of land in Kampot province in southern Cambodia to an individual named Heng Sour, which a local newspaper later identified as the minister.
On December 17, Nak posted a comment that asked, “What achievements has Heng Sour done for the Khmer nation that the government gave him forest land as his personal property? RIP Khmer forests.” The government denies the report that the Heng Sour involved in the Kampot land deal is the minister.
Nak is being held at Phnom Penh’s Correctional Center 1.
RFA reported a slightly different course of events, claiming that the charges relate to a Facebook comment that Nak made in response to the Ministry of Commerce, which stated that it is aiming to register 10,000 new companies in 2024. Nak reportedly posted that this “must include dried clams companies, begging companies, or illegal drug companies.” He added that the government should disclose how many failed businesses have recently closed.
Whichever specific Facebook posts have led to the latest charges, it is clear that Nak has a recent history of run-ins with the authorities. In August 2021, he was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment on charges of incitement after making a satirical post criticizing then Prime Minister Hun Sen’s COVID-19 restrictions. (He joked that he was placing face masks on his chickens and putting his chicken coop under “a state of emergency.”)
Even after his release the following June, Nak continued to post critical comments about government officials on his Facebook page called IMan-KH, which currently has 424,000 followers.
In particular, he criticized the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries for its administrative bloat and ineffectiveness in helping Cambodian farmers. In September, he posted a comment that criticized Minister of Agriculture Dith Tina over his handling of a report on rice prices. Hours later, a group of men in black uniforms and helmets drove Nak’s motorbike off the road and beat him severely with batons.
Anyone who has observed Cambodian politics for any period of time will note the similarity to attacks against opposition members dating back years. In particular, human rights groups documented a similar series of attacks on activists from the opposition Candlelight Party in the months leading up to national elections last July, from which the party was barred from participating.
Phil Robertson of the advocacy group Human Rights Watch yesterday denounced Nak’s arrest as “yet another example of the systematic persecution of an outspoken government critic.” He added, “What this arrest shows is just how little has changed under the new government of Prime Minister Hun Manet when it comes to basic civil and political rights.”
The notable thing about Nak’s case, apart from what it reveals about the continuities of coercion under Cambodia’s new-look government, is his determination not to succumb to intimidation, even after experiencing the hard edge of the government’s repressive power.
On January 3, two days before his arrest, he posted a message to Facebook. “I, Ny Nak, would like to tell all those who threaten and intimidate that even if you have the power, money, and strength to hurt me and want to destroy my career, cut my life, I am not afraid,” he wrote.