Prime Minister Hun Sen has again lashed out at critics of the January 7 holiday marking the 1979 overthrow of the Khmer Rouge, warning he will arrest anyone who accuses he or other senior officials of being “traitors” to the country.
“I would like to tell you not to curse as a national traitor,” Hun Sen said during a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh yesterday.
“If you curse, it will be a problem, if you dare to use this word you will be arrested from your homes. Don’t talk about freedom of expression on this matter.”
The premier also warned that any politician or parliamentarian making similar criticisms would lose their parliamentary immunity and be arrested immediately.
“Whether or not you have parliamentary immunity, the father of parliamentary immunity will still arrest [you].
You can say whatever, or curse January 7, but don’t curse as a national traitor,” Hun Sen said.
In his speech, the prime minister also cautioned foreign countries against interfering if the government does make any arrests.
“I would like to give a message in advance, as it might happen in the future,” he added.
On Friday, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party held celebrations marking the 32nd anniversary of the January 7, 1979 overthrow of the Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese army.
The January 7 holiday – known as Victory over Genocide Day – has attracted criticism, however, with some arguing the day should not be celebrated as it marks the moment Cambodia lost its national sovereignty and fell under the influence of Vietnam.
In a statement released ahead of the holiday last week, political observer Son Soubert said the CPP’s commemoration of the day demonstrated an ignorance of “the general fear felt by the great majority of the Cambodian people of losing national independence and sovereignty”.
Opposition Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday that the day was more a celebration of the birthday of the CPP, and reiterated that Hun Sen was a traitor to his country.
He was also critical of the premier’s warning, saying citizens have a democratic right to criticise politicians and that the party’s position on the issue of January 7 would remain firm.
“If somebody has said traitor they have done nothing wrong,” Yim Sovann said. “The prime minister is a public figure and he should accept criticism from the people. In a democratic society we have to accept criticism, or we are not a democracy.”
Police in Siem Reap province are also investigating the distribution of antigovernment leaflets apparently released to coincide with last week’s January 7 celebrations. Last year, four people were convicted on disinformation charges for circulating similar leaflets in Takeo province.