Prime Minister Hun Sen angrily referred to effigy-burning protesters in Australia as “dogs” yesterday, while also appearing to acknowledge that his own bark had perhaps been worse than his bite when he threatened to “beat” anyone burning his photo on a trip to Sydney this month.
The premier first made the threat in a speech last week, saying if protesters at the upcoming Asean-Australia Special Summit burned his image he had the “right to fight you” and “beat you at home”. Protesters in Australia and America, meanwhile, took the warning as an invitation, releasing photos and videos of flaming Hun Sen effigies.
This morning, the premier continued to strike a combative tone, even as he appeared to walk back what Australian residents and politicians have been quick to note was an unrealistic threat.
“If the dog bites our leg, then it is difficult for us to bite the dog’s leg,” Hun Sen told an audience of garment workers. “If the dog barks at us, then it is difficult to bark at the dog.”
The scaling-back of his remarks comes a day after the Cambodian Foreign Ministry asked Australia to ensure that the premier’s “dignity” was respected during his visit to Australia, which Hun Sen had threatened to skip should there be any attempt to “pressure” his government.
Before the premier’s walk-back reached Australian shores, however, senior Australian opposition politician Chris Bowen was railing against the threats in parliament yesterday, saying the Australian-Cambodian community were “rightly outraged and frankly . . . scared”.
“We will not see them intimidated, we will not see them harassed and we will not see them bullied,” he said.
“They need to know that this parliament will not put up with that sort of language from anybody, even if they are head of another government . . . Even if he is prime minister, he will not come to our country and behave like that.”
Cambodia has recently found itself the object of international condemnation following a months-long crackdown that has seen the jailing of opposition leader Kem Sokha, the forced dissolution of his Cambodia National Rescue Party and the closure of multiple independent news outlets.
The premier, meanwhile, insisted in his speech yesterday that he was unaffected by the effigy burning.
“I wish to inform those who burn Hun Sen’s images that it is not right. It is wrong if you want to burn Hun Sen’s image to make Hun Sen die. Hun Sen was [born] in the Year of the Naga [Dragon], so burn all Nagas at the pagodas, then Hun Sen will die,” he said.
Additional reporting by Erin Handley
Updated 9:04am, Thursday 1 March 2018