With Prime Minister Hun Sen openly touting phone tapping of political opponents as a positive development, experts are beginning to question whether the move on behalf of the premier breaches Cambodia’s privacy laws.
Since opposition leader Kem Sokha was allegedly caught in conversation with a mistress, sparking a prolonged legal action, fear over invasions of privacy has grown, analysts say. Legal experts told VOA Khmer that recording a private phone conversation without the other person’s knowledge was unlawful.
Hun Sen has both suggested he is unconnected to the “leaks”, and also that he was involved directly.
“The recent leaked audio shows that Hun Sen can beat [you] with his left hand and there is still a right hand,” he said.
Sok Sam Oeun, a veteran Cambodian legal expert, said the slew of leaked recordings could breach the Law on Telecommunications, but legal action could only be taken if a complaint was filed.
“The one who releases the audio recordings is breaking the law if there is no agreement from the relevant parties,” he said.
As a result of the leaks, people are increasingly afraid to talk about sensitive matters on the phone, he added.
“But now we have a problem of implementation. What is a law for if we don’t implement it and try to protect people’s privacy? The state doesn’t care or ignores the people’s privacy,” he said. “Under international law, it’s a human rights violation.”
The telecommunications law, passed in late 2015 by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, sets out sanctions for those found to be secretly recording private communications without authorization.
Wan-Hea Lee, country representative of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said in an email that the wiretapping of private conversations was illegal and only compounded by the public release of the files.
“The right to privacy is protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Constitution, the Criminal Code and the Telecommunications Law,” she said.
“All the recent leaks were done with no connection to a criminal investigation, although some led to a criminal investigation and charges. This is clearly incompatible with human rights law,” she added.
Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told VOA Khmer that he was shocked by Hun Sen’s public acknowledgment of his connection to the leaking of the audio conversation with Kem Sokha.
“I was amazed to read that Hun Sen said that it was true that the tap he was on with Kem Sokha was real because he is effectively admitting that the government made that tap and then published it. But in that tap, he made the threat against the opposition,” Adams said.
“It is clearly against the law. But Hun Sen thinks that there is one law for Hun Sen, another law for everybody. This like a parent who said do what I said but don’t do what I do,” he added.
In a speech on Friday, Hun Sen argued that wire tapping was carried out across the world, including by the U.S. And European governments.
“No-one dares to attack the United States and CIA,” he said, going on to joke that officials should be careful if they had sent pornographic content to each other as the U.S. Intelligence agency may release it in the future.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said preventing phone tapping was difficult and claimed a third party had released the audio recordings.
“The government does not have an interest in having secret recordings made and released. We don’t know the third party who released the audio,” he said.
However, he did not deny that Hun Sen was involved in publicizing the recent private conversation with Sokha.
“It is not illegal. What law prohibits someone from revealing [conversations] to others? We don’t have such a law,” he claimed.
Lee of the OHCHR said law enforcement needed to be improved with regards the right to privacy.
“While there are reasons for particular concern in Cambodia, the phenomenon and the concerns are global,” she added.