In a sweeping, enraged speech yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned NGO workers not to comment on politics, instructing both them and journalists to “be careful” or risk jail time.
In a diatribe that also sought to justify violent political crackdowns in Cambodia by comparing them to post-election protests in the US, the premier appeared to single out one NGO director during an address at a Phnom Penh construction site.
“There is a person who works in an NGO . . . Do not come to make disorder as an analyst – this morning I have seen it,” he said. “Just take my message. Politicians talk with each other about politics and you are from an NGO, so do not make this messy.”
Gesticulating as his voice reverberated with anger, Prime Minister Hun Sen told would-be analysts to “be careful”.
Hun Sen has already sued one analyst, Kim Sok, over comments made to the media regarding the murder of fellow political analyst Kem Ley, and yesterday the media itself also became a target of the premier’s invective.
“If I work for an NGO, I have rights, but when I am wrong, I will be in jail. If I am a journalist, I have rights, but when those rights impact on other people, I will be in jail, because the law [will put] them in jail and [make them] pay money,” he said.
Pro-government news outlet Fresh News yesterday said the premier’s vitriol appeared to be aimed at Koul Panha, executive director of election watchdog Comfrel, for comments he made to Phnom Penh Post Khmer, published yesterday morning, about “immature” leaks fostering suspicion.
Panha could not be reached for comment yesterday, nor could the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media’s Pa Nguon Teang or Moeun Chhean Nariddh from the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies.
But Naly Pilorge, of rights group Licadho, said that in an open and democratic society, journalists and civil society players should be able to raise concerns, criticisms and opinions “without fearing arbitrary arrests and detentions”.
“A society that is repressed into silence may greatly risk development in a complex global economy,” she said in a message yesterday.
Prime Minister Hun Sen also yet again held court on the state of democracy in the United States, claiming former president Barack Obama may need to seek political asylum in Canada after President Donald Trump accused him of wire-tapping.
“Donald [Trump] continues the conflict, and I will echo it in order to give a lesson to the inciter. For me, I do not get angry with the one who starts the fire, but angry with the person who calls the wind [to fan the flames],” he said, adding that anyone who doubted his word should face death by lightning bolt.
He said demonstrations against the US election results saw a wave of arrests and thus use of force by Cambodian authorities was justified. “What I have done in the past, it is not wrong, because it is for the stability of the Khmer country, and it is the same [as the US],” he said.
He added Cambodia’s often-violent crackdowns on peaceful protests were to “protect all people” and prevent “chaotic demonstrations that damage public order”.
The US Embassy in Phnom Penh, reached yesterday, declined to comment.
Phil Robertson, from Human Rights Watch, said Hun Sen’s “latest rant shows that he fully understands how to create ‘Fake News’ just like his new idol, Donald Trump”.
“The problem is [that] in Cambodia, Hun Sen can get away with promoting the big lie because he’s cowed the political opposition with violence and bogus legal prosecutions, and has the Cambodian judges in his back pocket,” he said.