Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday claimed to have an audio recording of an interview between a Post journalist and an opposition source, which circumstances suggest could have been obtained illegally.
The premier made the remarks during a speech at a graduation ceremony on the capital’s Koh Pich, during which he also criticised prominent political analyst Meas Ny, who yesterday said he felt “very anxious” about being singled out.
Hun Sen claimed he had obtained a recording of comments by Cambodia National Rescue Party chief whip Son Chhay about the opposition’s decision this week to not attend parliament, prior to them appearing in yesterday’s edition of The Post and suggested he had a person inside the newsroom.
“When The Phnom Penh Post interviewed you, [The Post] sent your original audio to me . . . yesterday,” he said, holding up yesterday’s edition of Post Khmer.
“Don’t forget, inside The Phnom Penh Post there is my person.”
There is no evidence of any collusion between Post staff and the premier. The circumstances surrounding the interview, however, suggest that if an audio recording was obtained, it would have, of necessity, been accessed illegally.
The interview with Chhay was conducted on a reporter’s personal phone, and audio of the conversation was not distributed. Comments were filed for publication and edited as per regular newsroom procedure.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday denied that the state monitored journalists’ communications and refused to explain why the premier had boasted of having a person “inside” The Post.
“We don’t monitor anything, it’s not necessary to monitor anything, but we just learn from when you print the newspaper, that’s enough,” he said.
The government has denied it taps phones, which is illegal unless permitted by a “legitimate authority”, according to a 2015 telecommunications law widely criticised for giving the state broad snooping powers.
But the recent leak online of a covertly recorded phone conversation said to feature CNRP lawmaker Ho Vann speaking with a mistress, and a similar leak last year that revealed an alleged affair by opposition leader Kem Sokha, have fuelled concerns that communications are being monitored.
During his speech yesterday, the premier appeared particularly upset with Chhay’s defence of the opposition’s decision to skip parliament.
Chhay had said the party would not attend votes it saw as negative, such as Tuesday’s ballot to rewrite the assembly’s internal regulations to strip the CNRP of its status as the parliament’s minority group, which was yesterday endorsed by the Constitutional Council.
Yesterday, the premier – who had already vowed to block the opposition’s plans to summon three ministers to parliament in response to their absence – doubled down on his criticism, warning Chhay he could face “arrest” if he made any statements that ignored the outcome of Tuesday’s vote.
Hun Sen then turned his attention to political analyst Meas Ny who, in an interview with the Cambodia Daily published yesterday, noted that blocking the CNRP from summoning ministers to parliament violated the Constitution, which enshrines lawmakers’ rights to call officials to the assembly.
“I know the Constitution. I do not hold a PhD degree, but I am the father of doctors since not less than two of my children hold PhDs,” Hun Sen said yesterday, later adding: “Meas Ny, I would send a message to you, to not go too far”.
Contacted yesterday, Ny said he was rattled by the comments, and worried for his safety.
“As a person trained as a social scientist, it is hard for me to close my mouth, but I have to be careful to maintain my analysis but also keep myself safe,” he said.
Deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson, noting last year’s murder of political analyst Kem Ley, yesterday said the premier’s singling out of Meas Ny was “chilling” and a “direct” threat.
“Every time he opens his mouth these days, PM Hun Sen shows his dictatorial, rights-abusing character in a way that should frighten anyone concerned about the protection of human rights and preservation of democracy in Cambodia,” he said.