The National Police yesterday said it will strengthen its campaign to clamp down on individuals spreading fake news about the COVID-19 outbreak on social media.
As of yesterday, three Facebook users – one from Phnom Penh and two from Siem Reap province – have been detained after they were caught allegedly spreading false coronavirus information on Facebook.
The action follows Prime Minister Hun Sen’s remarks last week where he dubbed fake news instigators as “terrorists”.
“We detained them for questioning after they spread fake news about coronavirus on social media,” said National Police spokesman Lieutenant General Chhay Kim Khoeun, adding he could not reveal the identity of the suspects.
“More arrests could happen in the following days,” he said.
He noted the deleterious effects in public order and security brought about by a wave of disinformation and rumours on COVID-19 outbreak.
“They are polluting the society and disturbing public order. Concerted efforts to spread falsehoods about the virus only incite fear and anxiety among the people,” said Lt Gen Kim Khoeun.
“They shoot videos of unconscious people then post the clips on Facebook, saying these people are infected with the virus,” said Lt Gen Kim Khoeun, noting those who see the video are led to believe the fake news. “People falling unconscious on the streets are nothing new. It has happened before the outbreak.”
Some Facebook users, he added, have taken the recent health crisis as an opportunity to criticise the government for failing to contain the spread of the virus. “They intend to malign the reputation of government leaders, which causes turmoil in the country.”
He said the Ministry of Health and other relevant institutions are working double-time to disseminate recent developments in coronavirus cases in the Kingdom to spread awareness among the people.
However, Am Sam Ath, Deputy Director of Monitoring for rights group Licadho, yesterday disagreed with the National Police’s actions.
“Any suspect should be strictly inspected on the content of what they have written or said – whether they meant to spread disinformation or to only express an opinion,” he added.
Mr Sam Ath said if authorities continue to arrest Facebook users who have limited understanding of the real coronavirus situation, then their efforts to stop the spread of fake news in the Kingdom will still be unsuccessful.
He noted some of the accusations made by the National Police are baseless and unreasonable. “Authorities should increase information dissemination measures to make people clearly understand the situation and reduce fear and discrimination among the people.”
The Facebook users who were arrested, he said, must be educated rather than be faced with legal action.
“They should not accuse these people with incitement. If people who bear limited understanding of COVID-19 are arrested, then the arrest is not justified. It is simply a violation of their right to freedom of expression,” said Mr Sam Ath.
Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana on Tuesday instructed prosecutors at all municipal and provincial courts to enforce firmer legal action against those who deliberately spread fake news regarding COVID-19 in the Kingdom, saying people who do so are considered to have committed a criminal offence.
The Kingdom has found three people positive for the virus. The first case was reported in January involving a Chinese national in Sihanoukville. He was quarantined for 14 days before being allowed to leave.
The second case came last week when a Cambodian man in Siem Reap province tested positive for the virus after coming into contact with a Japanese man who had since left the country.
The third case was detected on Tuesday at Kampong Cham province involving a 65-year-old British woman who was aboard the Viking Cruise Journey from Ho Chi Minh city.