Sam Rainsy’s legal action in the U.S. on the misuse of Facebook by Hun Sen

On 8 February Sam Rainsy, exiled Cambodian opposition leader and Honorary member of the Global Committee for the Rule of Law “Marco Pannella”, has filed a lawsuit in U.S. Federal Court seeking information from Facebook about Cambodia’s misuse of the social media platform. The case is one of the first civil suits to seek inside information from Facebook regarding the misuse of its platform by foreign state actors. Documents and testimony requested from the social media company will be used to help respond to allegations made by Cambodia’s authoritarian dictator, ex-Khmer Rouge commander Hun Sen.

Mr. Sam’s federal Petition seeks information in Facebook’s possession regarding Hun Sen’s misuse of social media to deceive Cambodia’s electorate and to commit human rights abuses. The information will aid Mr. Sam’s legal defense in Cambodia and elsewhere. One key issue is Hun Sen’s alleged falsification of his popularity by using “click farms” to generate millions of fake “likes” on his Facebook account. Hun Sen also has used the platform to make death threats against political opponents, including Mr. Sam. These activities violate Facebook’s policies and terms of use.

The Petition seeks disclosure of Facebook’s records relating to Hun Sen’s and his allies’ misuse of the site, including Hun’s expenditure of state money to advertise on the network. The filing highlights the role Facebook plays in countries like Cambodia, where traditional media and access to information has been repressed. Evidence in Facebook’s possession will help shed light on Hun Sen’s effort to manipulate social media to further suppress public discourse. “We are counting on Facebook to help shed light on the regime’s manipulation of technology. If Hun Sen has nothing to hide, he should support our investigation of his activities” said Applicant Sam Rainsy. He added, “the Cambodian people and international community deserve the truth.”

Hun Sen and his ruling family have come under intense criticism from the United Nations, human rights groups, as well as the U.S. government, for a variety of recent abuses. These include alleged extra-judicial killings, suppression of the free press, illegal detention of opponents, and Hun Sen’s dissolution of Cambodia’s only serious opposition party.  These actions were taken in the run-up to upcoming elections, scheduled for July 2018.

“Facebook has demonstrated its potential to help improve information sharing and transparency in countries like Cambodia” said Mr. Sam’s attorney, J. Noah Hagey, of BraunHagey Borden LLP. “The issues raised in the Petition ask fundamental questions about Facebook’s role in the democratic process, including how it will react when being misused by repressive regimes. We look forward to working with Facebook to gather necessary information to support our client’s legal cases and to expose the truth behind Hun Sen’s many abuses.”

Petitioner Sam Rainsy is represented by pro bono counsel J. Noah Hagey and Matthew Borden of San Francisco-based complex litigation firm BraunHagey & Borden LLP, and by Richard Rogers of Global Diligence LLP, a London-based human rights firm.

Moreover, on 9 February, U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) introduced the Cambodia Accountability and Return on Investment (CARI) Act of 2018.

The CARI Act restricts assistance to the Cambodian government due to actions taken as it relates to regional security, enforcement of sanctions against North Korea, and efforts to protect the rights and responsibilities enshrined in the Cambodian constitution including the immediate release of opposition leader Kem Sokha and jailed journalists and other activists. The legislation requires continued implementation of the visa denial policy imposed in December 2017 until free and fair parliamentary elections have taken place, and provides for the freezing of assets of any individual captured by that policy.

Read more on Sam Rainsy’s Facebook page

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