Less than two weeks after a new lèse majesté law was passed by the National Assembly – and before it has even been signed into effect – litigious politician Pich Sros is invoking it against an activist monk for comments he made in a radio interview that allegedly insulted the King.
In an interview with Radio Free Asia on Tuesday night, But Buntenh accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of allowing Vietnamese residents to live on the Tonle Sap in exchange for Vietnam’s help in overthrowing the Khmer Rouge in 1979.
“Nowadays, the Khmer in Phnom Penh and some Khmer in some provinces drink Vietnamese urine because they urinate in the river, defecate in the river and we use the river water,” he said. “So, every day, those who drink Vietnamese urine are not only the prime minister, but also the King [Norodom Sihamoni] drinks it too.”
Sros – who has filed numerous complaints in the past year, including one against the Cambodia National Rescue Party that led to the party’s dissolution – did not take exception to Buntenh’s apparent racism, instead focusing on him having suggested the King drinks tainted water. The comments were published on government mouthpiece Fresh News and the website of the Cambodian Youth Party, of which he is a founder.
Sros told The Post Buntenh should be punished by the law as he “looks down on our King”. The lèse majesté law does not go into effect until after it is signed by the King or his surrogate, which has yet to happen. It carries a prison sentence of one to five years and a 2 million to 10 million riel fine, or about $500 to $2,500.
“But Buntenh will face the law, because our law was just issued,” Sros said. “The judge will invite But Buntenh to clarify.”
However, he said he had not decided whether or not to file a complaint to court. “I’m waiting to see first whether he realises that it was wrong,” he said.
Sros previously filed a complaint against Buntenh and two others – labour advocate Moeun Tola and Cambodian Center for Independent Media head Pa Nguon Teang – for allegedly misappropriating funds for slain analyst Kem Ley’s funeral, claims Ley’s family deny. All three have left the country.
Buntenh yesterday repeated his comments to The Post. “[The] water department has taken water from the river to utilise, to drink, and the King is not taking the water from the sky; he takes [it] from the water department. So he drinks urine, completely,” he said.
Chin Malin, Justice Ministry spokesman, said the law would come into effect in Phnom Penh 10 days after it is signed, and 20 days afterwards in the provinces. “So, before the King signs, it is still a draft law and not valid for implementation,” he said.
But Paul Chambers, a Southeast Asia expert at Thailand’s Naresuan University, said in an email that although the law had not yet gone into effect, it was not out of the question that it could be applied retroactively.
“Hun Sen’s championing of the lese majeste law (even without it being passed yet) would probably be enough in Cambodia for the judiciary, captive to the CPP, to rule that a lese majeste law had been violated,” he said.
Chambers also took aim at Buntenh for his racist comments. “But Buntenh’s characterisation of Cambodia’s current collective leadership drinking Vietnamese urine, though clearly meant as a slap in the face to Hun Sen, strikes me as extremely discriminatory toward Vietnamese people,” he said.
Buntenh defended his words, however, saying he was only referring to those who are in Cambodia illegally and pollute the waters. “The Tonle Sap is the life of our people. If they pollute it, they kill us,” he said. “Cambodian people publicly use to [urinate] . . . on the road or anywhere, but not in the Tonle Sap river much.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak declined to comment in detail. “I don’t want to reply to such a person . . . I keep my time for other things,” he said.