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Cambodia Bans Members of Meta's Oversight Board over Facebook Row

FILE - Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (C) takes selfies with a supporter during the inauguration ceremony of the Bakheng-1 water treatment plant in Phnom Penh on June 19, 2023.

Cambodia blacklisted 22 people on the Oversight Board for Facebook's parent company Meta on Tuesday after they recommended premier Hun Sen's account be suspended over a video in which he threatened to beat up his rivals.

The blacklisting is the latest twist in a row that has seen the longtime Cambodian leader, once a prolific Facebook user, stop using the platform and apparently deactivate his account.

It also comes weeks before a July 23 election widely dubbed a sham after authorities denied registration to the chief challenger to Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party.

Hun Sen has backed down from threats to cut off access to Facebook in Cambodia but declared the company's representatives would no longer be welcome in the country.

Meta's Oversight Board, the decisions from which are binding, recommended on Thursday that his Facebook and Instagram accounts be suspended for six months due to the January video.

In the clip, he told opponents they would face legal action or a beating with sticks if they accused his party of vote theft in July's polls.

Meta said it would remove the video in line with the Board's ruling.

The foreign ministry described the decision as "political in nature" and accused the board on Tuesday of interfering in Cambodia's internal affairs.

"It intends to obstruct the freedom of the press for the citizens of Cambodia and the right to receive credible news from a leader whom they support and admire," the ministry said in a statement.

The foreign ministry then declared 22 members of Meta's Oversight Board "as PERSONA NON GRATA" and barred them from entering Cambodia.

Hun Sen later released a statement on Telegram, his new app of choice, stating the board members "won't be able to enter Cambodia for their whole life" due to their "political interference in Cambodia's internal affairs".

Those blacklisted include former Danish leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Nobel Laureate Tawakkol Karman. No board members are known to be in Cambodia.

Hun Sen is among the world's longest-serving leaders after 38 years in power and is expected to hand the reins to his eldest son Hun Manet when he retires.

Rights groups accuse Hun Sen of using the legal system to crush any opposition, and scores of political opponents have been convicted during his time in power.

Hun Sen's party won every seat in the 2018 national election after a court dissolved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.