Prime Minister Hun Sen warned those who participate in public forums critical of the government to be “careful” and noted that government authorities should not be blamed if such forums cannot be protected from an irate public.
Speaking at a pagoda inauguration ceremony in Kandal province’s Ponhea Leu district on Monday, Hun Sen said that people angered by such forums may take matters into their own hands.
The forums criticize “[the] government for not doing anything: No development, corruption….,” Hun Sen said in a speech broadcast on Apsara radio.
“The government doesn’t do anything,” Hun Sen quipped, “except [build] schools and roads.”
Though not specifying exactly what forums he was referring to, Hun Sen focused on a recent forum organized by the US-based National Democratic Institute during which an opposition lawmaker made statements critical of the monarchy.
“Someone scolds the King. If people threw stones to break his head, what would happen?” Hun Sen asked.
“The people are so angry. They will soon face it, I presume,” Hun Sen said cryptically, adding: “When you have a problem don’t blame that the government does not defend you. These public forums should be careful, they scold others randomly.”
Following a May 29 forum at which opposition lawmaker Khem Veasna reportedly accused royalty of living parasitically off the country, both NDI and the opposition moved to disassociate themselves from the lawmaker’s views.
Khem Veasna claimed his comments were directed at monarchies around the world and were not at aimed at the Khmer royal family. He also blamed political opponents of taking his comments out of context.
Opposition party members and Kem Sokha, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights
—which holds regular forums around the country where members of the public air their dissatisfaction with government authorities and institutions—said they were concerned that people may act on the prime minister’s cue.
“I am worried that these words may be incitement,” Kem Sokha said on Monday, adding that verbal attacks in Cambodia are sometimes followed by incidents.
Forums organized by the rights center are not singularly focused on criticizing the government, Kem Sokha said, adding that the government has achieved some successes, but there are many loopholes and much more needs to be done.
Hun Sen has regularly blasted his critics and has lashed out on several occasions at an unnamed NGO and a human rights worker he called Akuk Sora, though some people have noted the name rhymes with Kem Sokha.
In February, Hun Sen said that Buddhist pagodas should not be used to stage public forums as such meetings, he claimed, were promoting political and defamatory information.