CPJ troubled by Cambodian prime minister’s remarks to RFA reporter

New York, May 23, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is troubled by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s threatening comments to a Radio Free Asia reporter on Thursday.

Um Sarin, a radio reporter with Radio Free Asia (RFA), told CPJ that Hun Sen referred to him as “insolent” and “rude” after being queried outside the National Assembly compound about a recent government reshuffle. The premier singled out RFA for what he deemed as consistently “insolent” reporting.

“I was very afraid because his bodyguards started to circle around me,” Um Sarin told CPJ in a telephone interview. “He pointed his finger in my face and said that in the future I should be afraid to ask those sorts of questions,” he added. The premier’s comments against Um Sarin were later broadcast on several state-affiliated television and radio stations, drawing attention to the confrontation. In news reports, Hun Sen has not commented on the matter.

“In Cambodia’s current climate, the prime minister’s comments are menacing,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We urge the prime minister to clarify his comments and make clear that he did not intend to threaten reporter Um Sarin.”

On May 20, Um Sarin said, he fled to neighboring Thailand due to concerns for his personal safety. Um Sarin’s case marks the latest incident in a troubling trend of government harassment of RFA reporters.

According to a senior RFA editor, reporter Sok Ratha was prevented by Hun Sen’s bodyguards from reporting on a new road project in the remote Ratanakiri province in April. The same reporter had earlier been called to a meeting with the provincial governor, where he was chastised for reporting on alleged illegal logging in the area, according to the RFA editor. Hun Sen’s government has consistently denied that it condones illegal logging despite several independent investigative reports that indicate otherwise.

In December 2006, the editor said, RFA reporter Lem Pich Pisey was prevented by Hun Sen’s bodyguards from covering the opening of a new building in Battambang province last December. The area is a former stronghold of the Khmer Rouge, of which Hun Sen’s government has reached a controversial political accommodation.

And in October 2005, RFA reporter Ath Bunny fled Cambodia for Thailand due to concerns he might be arrested for reports about a controversial border demarcation treaty that Hun Sen had made with Vietnam. Hun Sen’s government had earlier jailed Radio Beehive FM 105 journalist Mam Sonando over critical radio reports he had made about the treaty.