[Joint Statement] Cambodia: Blocking of music video another blow to freedom of expression
23 January 2023 11:54 am

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), and Asia Democracy Network (ADN) are appalled that the Cambodian authorities have ordered for a music video by a rapper that recounts a deadly government crackdown on a workers’ protest nine years ago to be removed from a social media page. We are also concerned about the questioning of civil society activists. Such actions highlight the systematic crackdown on freedom of expression under the Hun Sen regime.

According to reports, Cambodia’s culture ministry ordered police to prevent the spread of the music video called “Blood Workers” citing its “inciting contents that can contribute to instability and social disorder.” The video, which had been posted on the human rights group LICADHO’s Facebook page, was by rapper Kea Sokun and shows footage of the 3 January 2014 protests by garment workers in Phnom Penh demanding an increase to the minimum wage, during which police shot four people dead, 38 wounded and a 15-year-old boy missing.

The cybercrime police also questioned Am Sam Ath, operations director at LICADHO on 9 January over the NGO’s involvement in releasing the rap video. To avoid further legal action, LICADHO removed the music video from Facebook and a censored page remains in its place. The group stated that the music video was not incitement and is protected speech under the Cambodian Constitution and they were saddened by this restriction on freedom of expression. LICADHO added that to this day, no one has been held accountable for the killings of workers Kim Phaleap, Sam Ravy, Yean Rithy and Pheng Kosal, or for Khem Sophath’s disappearance.

The authorities went further to question Tola Moeun from NGO Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (CENTRAL), Vorn Pao, president of the Independent Democratic Association of Informal Economy (IDEA) and Theng Savoeun from CCFC (Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Communities) about the video.

By blocking the video, the Cambodian authorities have once again chosen to silence freedom of expression and censor the work of civil society in their efforts to highlight human rights violations and seek accountability. Therefore, our organisations call on the government to halt its intimidation of civil society and to reverse this decision immediately which is clearly inconsistent with Cambodia’s international human rights obligations.

This is not the first time rapper Kea Sokun has been targeted. He was arrested in September 2020 and spent a year in jail for incitement for a song he released called ‘Dey Khmer’ (‘Khmer Land’) which is about the politically sensitive topic of the Cambodian-Vietnamese border.

These actions are taking place in the context of an increasingly repressive civic space environment. In September 2022, CIVICUS published a report highlighting the ongoing persecution of activists, trade union activists, journalists, the opposition and others. Despite ongoing engagement and reporting by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia and multiple resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council and recommendations, the Cambodian government has shown no political will to undertake democratic or and civic space reforms, ahead of crucial 2023 elections.

Our organisations call on the international community to increase its pressure on the Hun Sen regime to respect and protect human rights, especially fundamental freedoms and halt their persecution of civil society activists and critics. Failure to do so will see the one-party regime further entrench itself in years to come.