In the latest instance of moral policing, the Cambodian National Police arrested a woman for dressing too provocatively while selling products on Facebook, days after Hun Sen threatened similar action.
Thai Srey Neang, who sells clothes, cosmetics and accessories on Facebook, was arrested Wednesday for violating the Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, under Article 38 and 39 for the alleged crime of “pornography.”
According to a statement by the National Police, Thai Srey Neang was sent to Phnom Penh Municipal Court to face further legal procedures.
She was “educated” on Tuesday by the National Police, the statement reads, about dressing provocatively and made to sign a letter promising not to do it again. But, the police allege she posted another photo the same night wearing underwear, with this act amounting to a crime for which she was arrested.
“After signing the agreement and confessing at 11:30 a.m., she was allowed to return home. But by 2:35 p.m., Thai Srey Neang posted a nearly-naked photo showing only her underwear,” read the statement.
On Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen, at a meeting with women’s rights groups, called out women for wearing “sexy” clothes online in order to sell products.
“Samdech Techo Prime Minister also warned of measure against some online product sellers who dress extremely sexy and do live sale promotion of their products via social media, which has an effect on the values, morality, and honor of our Cambodian women,” read a post on his official Facebook page.
The government in the past has conducted similar acts of moral policing, even banning actress Denny Kwan for a year for being too voluptuous and affecting the honor of Cambodian women.
Phnom Penh Court and National Police officials did not respond to requests for comment on the exact nature of Thai Srey Neang’s alleged crime or the use of the pornography charge.
Kuch Kimlong, deputy prosecutor at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, and Sar Thet, chief of Phnom Penh Municipal Police, said they were busy and did not respond to the arrest.
Rights groups on Tuesday, prior to the arrest, slammed the prime minister’s comments, with Amnesty International rejecting his assertion that women were to blame for sexual violence and trafficking.
“The Prime Minister’s order to track down and ‘educate’ women represents a menacing application of the state’s surveillance apparatus to advance a discriminatory and patriarchal agenda,” read a statement from Amnesty International’s Regional Director Nicholas Bequelin.
A group of local independent activists and organizations said the act of shaming women for their choice of dress was equal to gender-based violence inflicted on women and called for the government to respect women’s rights.
“We would like to appeal to the government to ensure that Cambodia pays respect to the autonomous rights, expression, feeling, and choice of body of women in order to achieve the promotion of gender equality and put an end to violence against gender in Cambodia,” read the open letter written to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Ou Sopheary, campaign coordinator of Action Aid Cambodia, who is one of the signatories, said the authorities arrested Thai Srey Neang despite rights groups alerting them to the fallacy of the logic to imprison women for what they wear.
Seng Reasey, executive director of Silika, said it was unclear what women’s rights issue was being tackled by the authorities by policing these women.
“What do we want to address at this point? Are we addressing sexual harassment? Are we addressing cases of pornography or what are we addressing?” she said.