A day after Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday said he would “beat” any would-be protesters who dared to burn his photo during an upcoming trip to Australia, a group of fired-up demonstrators in the United States has already taken him up on his challenge, setting the premier’s visage alight in Long Beach.
In Wednesday’s speech, Hun Sen threatened to boycott the Asean-Australian Special Summit on March 17 and 18 over rumoured “pressure” on his government for its crackdown on the opposition. He also issued a menacing word of warning to would-be protesters in Australia.
“I would like to send a message, do not burn my photo,” he said. “If you burn my photo, I will follow you home . . . I will follow you and beat you at home.”
He added, “I want to be clear, you have your right to burn my image. I have my right to fight you, so it’s fine . . . I will go to your houses and seize you.”
Cambodian-Australian resident Va Malina, from Melbourne, said she would be joining demonstrations next month to coincide with Hun Sen’s visit, and that the protests would now include burning an effigy of Hun Sen – thanks to the premier’s suggestion.
“We didn’t plan to burn Hun Sen’s effigy, but he is the one who reminded us yesterday,” she said.
Some in the Northern Hemisphere, however, were apparently unable to wait for the Australian visit, with masked participants broadcasting a protest on Facebook yesterday showing them burning a stuffed effigy bearing a printed-out photo of Hun Sen’s face.
The protests in March will call for the release of jailed opposition leader Kem Sokha and demand the reinstatement of his party – which was forcibly dissolved in November – before the July 29 national election. While organisers had initially planned for some 500 people to protest across the country, following Hun Sen’s inflammatory words, more are now expected to turn out.
Malina said Hun Sen would not be able to deliver on his “cruel and violent” threats because of Australian law and condemnation from the international community.
“You have no right to beat or punish us here,” she said.
Hong Lim, an Australian state lawmaker from Victoria who was born in Cambodia, announced he would join the demonstrators too, and said Australians were entitled to peacefully protest.
“The whole irony is that this event he’s coming to attend is about Australia and Asean jointly fighting against terrorism . . . and the terrorist Hun Sen is threatening to bring terrorism into Australia,” Lim said.
“He’s gone mad. He’s threatening Australian citizens on Australian soil,” he added. “To threaten anyone with bodily harm is an offence.”
Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday said he was “not a fortuneteller” and couldn’t predict whether Hun Sen would physically beat protesters next month. However, he did say that if there were an “incident”, there would “be a response like what he already said,” Eysan said.
The Australian Embassy and the Department of Foreign Affairs did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.