Protesters observe a minute's silence as they take part in a demonstration during the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)-Australia Special Summit in Sydney on March 17, 2018. - Cambodian leader Hun Sen, who is in Sydney for the special Australia-ASEAN summit, is travelling at time when his government has intensified an anti-democratic crackdown on the press, civil society and its opponents. (Photo by William WEST / AFP)
Protesters observe a minute's silence as they take part in a demonstration during the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Sydney on March 17, 2018. Photo: AFP

The recent tragic massacre in Christchurch by an Australian extremist, unleashing his hatred in New Zealand’s mosques, puts the spotlight on giant tech companies that should be doing more to filter online content associated with hate speech. Facebook came under attack after the worst atrocity ever to be committed in New Zealand was live-streamed during the shooting, which resulted in 50 deaths and scores injured.

In the aftermath of the attack, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reportedly wrote to his counterparts in New Zealand and Japan, Jacinda Ardern and Shinzo Abe, urging a global crackdown on social media at the upcoming Group of Twenty summit.

This issue resonates in Cambodia, where Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Facebook account, boasting a questionable 10 million “likes,” is a serial offender. Unlike  New Zealand’s lone shooter, Hun Sen uses other individuals and institutions to do the dirty work on his behalf – often with the international community exonerating him of wrongdoing, not once or twice, but over 30 years.

Is it time for Facebook and other social media to remove or block accounts held by Hun Sen and members of his regime as in the case of Myanmar?

State-sponsored actors

The New Zealand massacre opens a series of questions. Should individuals and groups be singularly targeted for hate speech and extremism while state-sponsored actors are exempted, as in the case of Hun Sen and members of his regime? In other words, is there any difference between hate speech against race and religion as opposed to hate speech against domestic political opponents and defenders of fundamental human rights?

Taking advantage of social media, Hun Sen and his violent regime post and share hateful comments, labeling Cambodians as traitors or accusing them of instigating a “color revolution,” then charging them with “treason.”

A recent declaration by Hun Sen called on the army to destroy the opposition, which was followed by the indictment of eight members of the opposition-in-exile, who were charged with incitement.

The other relevant issue is, how does technology keep up with hate speech made in a foreign language? Is it possible to expect tech corporations to develop algorithms to accomplish this?

If Facebook and other sites are required to monitor hate speech, regardless of the source, whether it be a group or national leaders, all forms of hate speech and extremism should be treated with equal force, which requires equal condemnation and outright rejection.

Hate speech and extremism come in different forms and languages, but the intended purpose is the same – to terrorize a section of the community for generations, regardless of religion, sex, or race.

Social-media outlets become a double-edged sword for Hun Sen and his regime. They serve as a weapon to defend his hate speech and promote political extremism, the narrative “that only Hun Sen can save Cambodia.” At the same time, social media is used to legitimize Cambodia’s culture of fear and violence. Cyber-bullying, killing and the arbitrary arrest and court prosecution of human-rights defenders serve as a deterrence to others.

There is a plethora of hateful statements by Hun Sen pointing to political radicalization, shared and posted widely on social media. Yet the international community has been selectively targeting individuals and groups promoting hateful speech, while Hun Sen is exonerated and encouraged to continue to negotiate, cooperate and engage with world leaders on the international stage.

It beggared belief when the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recently launched an anti-cyber-bullying program for young Cambodians, at a time when Hun Sen’s mustering of bigotry and of violence should have been the focal point when addressing the issue of Internet harassment. Young Cambodians do not create the culture of violence and cyber-bullying. It is Hun Sen and his regime.

In most cases, Hun Sen delivers his hate speech by comparing his critics to “dogs.” In one infamous speech, after he threatened to beat Cambodian-Australian protesters in March 2018 before his attendance at the ASEAN Summit in Sydney, Hun Sen called protesters dogs. That came after members of the Labor Party of Australia, led by Chris Bowen, encouraged members of the House to watch YouTube as he condemned Hun Sen’s threat.

Kem Sokha condemned as traitor

Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha spoke on YouTube in 2013 outlining his political vision for Cambodia, and by November 2017 Hun Sen had labeled the opposition leader as a “traitor” then charged him with treason. As Hun Sen uses social media as a base to crush his political rival, innocent Cambodians are being hunted and terrorized.

Hun Sen’s repetitive warnings that civil war would return to Cambodia if he was not elected clearly not only constituted a threat, but should have been declared hateful speech. Likewise, threats directed at the opposition to “prepare their own coffins” – copied by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who threatened to send visitors from Australia and New Zealand back “in coffins.”

The Turkish leader’s remarks were met with diplomatic action and a rebuke by Prime Minister Morrison, but when Hun Sen threatens Cambodian lives in the same way, the Australian government rewards him with more financial aid.

Recently, six political activists of the dissolved Cambodian opposition party who showed defiance with support online for their leader, Sam Rainsy, were met with Hun Sen’s court ordering their prosecution for incitement. All six dissidents are now seeking asylum in Thailand.

Again, the New York Times recently called out Hun Sen’s latest move  to indict eight top officials of the banned opposition as “provocative.” They were charged with incitement to commit a felony and plotting to commit treason.

The indictment represents the clearest sign of Hun Sen’s hate speech and extreme hostility towards political opposition, which he is determined to obliterate. But world leaders have not condemned Hun Sen or declareed that his government is not legitimate. It appears that crimes resulting from hate speech and extremism are condemned everywhere except Cambodia.

The New York Times reported that Hun Sen did not meet the European delegation. During the officials’ visit, he toured a local factory and expressed defiance about the suspension process.

But a local Cambodian news website uploaded a speech given by Hun Sen, who justified his reason for not meeting with the European delegation as follows:

For that level it [sic] does not have to meet with Hun Sen! Meeting for what? With the low status of a director of the department, [who] came to meet with the deputy prime minister is already [a] high [honor]. The bastard President EU and Commissioner EU those bastards [are the ones] Hun Sen would meet.”

If world leaders genuinely seek to eradicate atrocity and violence inflicted through hate speech and extremism, regardless of whether one is committed by individual fanatics or a national leader they should all be classified in the same manner as New Zealand’s evil mass murderer.

As for Facebook, it is now overdue to consider removing accounts operated by Hun Sen, his generals and members of the elites who use the platform as part of their anti-human rights defenders under the veil of economic prosperity, peace and development.

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