One day after pledging to stand his ground, go to prison and stage a hunger strike for speaking his mind about Vietnam border issues, he slipped unceremoniously out of Cambodia after Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened him with a defamation lawsuit in October.
Now, after returning to the country earlier this month as discreetly as he left it, Prince Sisowath Thomico is back, but speaking favorably of the level of freedom in Cambodia and hoping to have the defamation charges against him lifted.
“Sam Rainsy came back, [Retired King Norodom Sihanouk’s adviser] Say Bory came back, everybody else came back…why should I be stopped?” Prince Thomico, a special secretary to Norodom Sihanouk, said of his former fellow political exiles in an interview on Friday.
“I’ve been talking about sensitive matters, right, but always in a very respectful way, and always based on facts and historical documents. So I didn’t think I would be charged [with] what I’ve been accused of,” he said.
In a strident speech the day before Prince Thomico left, Hun Sen on Oct 17 accused the prince of claiming that the premier had signed off on the loss of Koh Tral, the Cambodian name for the Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc. Hun Sen threatened him with a lawsuit and prison.
“If I am arrested, I will accept. I won’t try to do anything against them,” Prince Thomico said the same day, explaining that his “masters” were Norodom Sihanouk and India’s Mahatma Gandhi.
“But as soon as I am in jail, I will start a hunger strike,” he added.
Officials later reported that the prince left the country the following morning.
Prince Thomico said Friday that he was contacted by “the King” and his aunt Queen Norodom Monineath asking him to go to China, and had no choice but to obey.
“I would have lost my credibility if I had wanted to have political stature. Politically it would have been bad, but I was not a political figure and I still am not…so I do not have to care about my credibility,” he said.
He spent some of the months that followed in North Korea, where he has shot two films for Norodom Sihanouk. One of them, “Reborn,” which has already been shown on TVK, he describes as an advertisement for North Korea.
The second is a 12-minute sketch, which has not yet been aired, based on a recent interview with Funcinpec lawmaker Princess Norodom Vacheara. In the interview, the princess stated that extramarital affairs should not be used as a pretext to persecute royalist officials, and she asked, “Who does not have a mistress?”—a comment that amused Norodom Sihanouk.
“The purpose of the movie is to say that every Cambodian has a mistress…no fuss should be made about having a mistress in Cambodia. That’s a very natural thing,” said Prince Thomico, who plays a journalist in the sketch.
While the prince may have felt pressured to leave Cambodia for his outspokenness, he added that the country is far removed from Burma.
“NGOs are very free of saying what they want to say, of doing what they want to do,” he said.
Although problems remain with land grabbing and the judiciary, he added: “People can go in and out of Cambodia freely.”
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith declined comment on the prince’s return, though government lawyer Suong Chanthan said the prince has little to fear.
“[Prince Thomico] wrote a letter admitting his mistakes,” the lawyer said. “We have withdrawn the lawsuit.”
(Additional reporting by Yun Samean)