Cambodia arrests scantily clad Facebook vendor on porn charges

by Matt Blomberg | @BlombergMD | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 20 February 2020 17:17 GMT

A Facebook logo is displayed on a smartphone in this illustration taken January 6, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

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Ven Rachna was arrested on Wednesday morning for dressing in a way that 'disgraces Khmer traditions' and 'affects the honour of Cambodian women'

By Matt Blomberg

PHNOM PENH, Feb 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Cambodian woman has been provisionally charged with disseminating pornography after defying a police crackdown on women who wear skimpy clothing while selling goods on Facebook.

Ven Rachna was arrested on Wednesday morning and released hours later after filming an apology and posting it to Facebook, while in police custody, for dressing in a way that "disgraces Khmer traditions" and "affects the honour of Cambodian women".

Police said Rachna was re-arrested in the afternoon as she posted a photo of herself in her underwear soon after being released. Charges of producing and distributing pornography carry prison terms of up to one year.

"When we educate them and they still do not listen, we will implement the law," Chhay Kim Khoeun, a spokesman for the Cambodian National Police, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Selling clothing and beauty products via Facebook live streams is a rising trend in Cambodia, a conservative country where many expect women to be submissive and quiet, a legacy of Chab Srey, an oppressive code of conduct for women.

Cover up or be censored: Cambodia orders women not look sexy on Facebook

The prime minister on Monday called for authorities to track down and educate women who wore revealing clothing in live streams, which he said disgraced Cambodia's culture and contributed to sexual harassment and violence against women.

Amnesty International said Rachna, 39, was "coerced" to sign a confession and film the apology, in which she promised to cover up. It criticised the prime minister's comments on sexual violence as "victim blaming".

"She agreed to stop but did she really agree on her own free will?" asked Ros Sopheap, head of the charity Gender and Development for Cambodia, adding that Rachna's decision to continue selling clothes on Facebook was an act of defiance.

The charges against Rachna, who also goes by Thai Sreyneang, will serve as a warning to hundreds of other women using Facebook and revealing clothing to sell products, Sopheap said.

"The message from the government here is that there is no respect for women's rights or even the law," she said.

"This is not about pornography. It's about instilling fear." (Reporting by Matt Blomberg; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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