Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday that he was glad Radio Free Asia reporter Um Sarin had fled to Thailand following an instance on May 17 in which he had called the reporter “insolent.”
“I heard that he ran to Bangkok, and if the UN High Commissioner for Refugees grants him asylum it is good because this type of person should stay overseas,” Hun Sen said, speaking at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh.
“It is good for him to leave because Cambodia land is heavier if he stays here,” the prime minister said.
Hun Sen, however, downplayed his remarks outside the National Assembly on May 17 when he rebuffed Um Sarin for asking about the future of the coalition between Funcinpec and the CPP.
“I talked to him like an older brother talks to a younger brother,” Hun Sen quipped.
“I told him that he needs to know the proper way to ask questions,” he added.
A senior RFA reporter said on the condition of anonymity that Um Sarin has now gone to France, but that he would likely return to Cambodia once the situation has blown over.
The RFA reporter added that though Hun Sen’s remarks did not constitute an overt threat, they had serious ramifications for other journalists in Cambodia who will likely be scared to do their jobs.
Independent media trainer Moeun Chhean Nariddh said that Hun Sen’s actions had hindered freedom of expression in Cambodia.
“In order for a democracy to function it needs a genuine free and independent press,” he said. “This is not only a loss for the Cambodian media, but it is also a loss for the government.”
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said the ongoing exchange between Hun Sen and RFA, which is funded by the US government, is itself a byproduct of press freedom.
“Tension between government officials and reporters is an inherent aspect of a free press,” Daigle wrote by e-mail, adding that he hopes the situation can be resolved amicably.