(New York, October 18, 2005)—The government of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen should release recently arrested critics of the government, withdraw all arrest warrants against activists, and end the climate of fear that he has created in recent days, Human Rights Watch said today.
Many of Cambodia's leading human rights advocates, trade union activists, and opposition party members have now fled the country or gone into hiding.
“This is the most severe assault on dissent in Cambodia since the aftermath of Hun Sen's coup in 1997,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “International donors and embassies must make it clear to Hun Sen that they will not tolerate the reversal of the important strides made in basic human rights during the last decade.”
The crackdown started with Hun Sen's visit on October 10-12 to Vietnam, where he signed a controversial border treaty. On October 10, dozens of armed police officers surrounded the Phnom Penh home of Mom Sonando, director of Beehive Radio FM 105. He was arrested the next morning on charges of defamation after having aired an interview with a Cambodian activist in France who is highly critical of the border treaty.
Upon return to Cambodia, Hun Sen announced that he would prosecute anyone who alleged that he, or the Cambodian government, had “sold land” to Vietnam. Such statements are an “act of treason,” he said.
In a meeting with international investors on October 14, Hun Sen announced that legal action was being taken against four members of the Cambodia Watchdog Council, a nongovernmental organization that had issued a statement on October 11 criticizing the border agreement.
On October 15, police arrested Cambodia Watchdog Council member Rong Chhun, who is also president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, as he was attempting to cross the border to Thailand to seek asylum. No arrest warrant was produced, but he was charged with defamation and incitement under articles 60 and 63 of the Cambodian penal code, which carry prison terms of five years for incitement and one year for defamation and a fine up to $2,500. Charges have also been brought against other members of the Cambodia Watchdog Council, including Chea Mony, President of the Free Trade Union Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia; Ea Channa, representative of the Student's Movement for Democracy; and Men Nath, president of the Civil Servants Association.
“Legal action should not be used as a tool of repression to silence the political opposition and government critics in Cambodia,” said Adams. “Hun Sen needs to accept that in a democracy leaders will be criticized when they make controversial decisions.”
In a speech broadcast on Cambodian television on October 17, Hun Sen threatened to abolish the monarchy and sack military chief Ke Kim Yan and other officials if they did not abide by his orders. He warned international organizations and foreign governments not to interfere. He called on the Thai government to extradite Cambodians suspected of fleeing to Bangkok over the weekend to seek asylum. (See appendix below).
The Cambodian government is now pressuring the Thai government to return individuals who have fled to Thailand for sanctuary. Returning persons to a place where they face persecution would violate the strict international legal prohibition against non-refoulement.
“The Thai government should not even discuss the return of individuals who are facing persecution for the peaceful expression of their political beliefs,” said Adams. “To do so would make Thailand complicit in this assault on free expression.”
Report on Speech of Prime Minister Hun Sen on October 17, 2005
Cambodian PM defends border agreement, issues warning to critics
(Source: BBC Monitoring of Television Kampuchea, Phnom Penh, in Cambodian, 0500 GMT, October 17, 2005)
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned those who criticize his stance on the border issue (“a serious one, one of treason”) will be dealt with “legally” in a speech during the inauguration of a monastic building which was broadcast on Television Kampuchea (TVK) on 17 October. Referring to two activists who are understood to have fled to Thailand, he threatened to invoke an extradition treaty to bring them home to face defamation charges.
He warned various unnamed groups and individuals that he “has been patient for too long” and referred to the ex-king's record on border issues - proposing playing tapes of himself correcting the former king on Cambodia's size for example.
The recorded speech, made at the Phnum Pros monastery in Kampong Siem District in the premier's home province of Kampong Cham, took up almost two hours of an extended programme shown after the 0500 GMT newscast. The programme started by showing a government anti-terrorist unit practicing a hostage rescue drill. The prime minister was visibly irritated during his speech, raising his voice many times. The following is a chronological report on the speech.
Beginning his speech Hun Sen recalled the US war in South Vietnam and the preparations for the US departure and then the “Khmerization of the war, that is Cambodians fighting Cambodians”. Hun Sen also recalled some events from and prior to the Pol Pot era of the Khmer Rouge regime, in which monks were maltreated. Hun Sen said: “At that time Pol Pot was not prominent yet.
The ones who were prominent were Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk and Samdech Pen Nout. This was how it was. Had [I] known that it was already Pol Pot then, [I] would not have followed you [Sihanouk]. It was just that the president of the front was Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk and the prime minister was Samdech Pen Nout. That's why I and others responded. That was the story. You cannot change history. In Jakarta [during the informal talks between warring Cambodian factions] the king [Sihanouk] asked me to be his equal. This is still on tape [chuckle]. He asked me to be his equal in Jakarta in 1988.”
Hun Sen also said that in 1989 Sihanouk accused him of being a Khmer Rouge and then retorted: “No, I refused to be equals. No, it cannot be. There are three factors that this cannot be so. First, you [Sihanouk] are the chief and I am a subordinate. I was only 18 years old then; you appealed for people to join in the jungle; I had to follow. So, you were the chief and I was the subordinate. If there were rewards, you would receive the biggest reward while I, a simple soldier, would only get the clapping. If there were rewards. However, if there were punishment, you would be severely punished while I would go free.” [brief applause from the audience].
Hun Sen said the second reason for him to refuse to be Sihanouk's equal was that “when I was leading the struggle against Pol Pot, you [Sihanouk] were the head of Democratic Kampuchea, head of state of Democratic Kampuchea. Even though you had resigned, you were still with the Khmer Rouge.” For his third reason Hun Sen said: “Today, we are sitting here together, you as the head of the tripartite coalition government with the Khmer Rouge in it, and I, the head of the government opposing the Khmer Rouge.”
Hun Sen then talked about progress in Kampong Cham Province and praised the local officials and people for their efforts to develop the locality and urged further efforts to fight drought and flooding and achieve more progress. Turning to the current Cambodia's border problem, Hun Sen said: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank the clergy, the people, and all sections of the armed forces for supporting the royal government and myself in solving the border problem with neighboring countries. I would like to express thanks for all the support in the form of petitions, contributions to radio talk shows.”
And for the next almost one hour of his speech Hun Sen talked about the border problems, laced with anecdotes, and strongly criticized his detractors saying “these people cannot be forgiven” and that “they have to be dealt will legally.” He said: “Now, two of them are already in prison. There are three others; one of them in France. No, another four, one of them in France; another one in Holland; while the other two are said to have fled to Thailand. And the court has issued warrants. In this case we can contact Thailand for the arrest because we have extradition treaty with Thailand.”
Hun Sen added: “Now we are considering suing Sisowath Thomico who is the cousin of the current king. Even a royal family member is sued. I have already said this.” Hun Sen accused Sisowath Thomico of issuing a statement through Voice of America radio adding that “His Majesty the King [Sihamoni], Samdech Euv [Sihanouk], and Samdech Mae [Queen Mother Monineath] who have a nephew, and the king who has a cousin, please leave this to the tribunal. You [Sisowath Thomico] have no immunity.”
Hun Sen also talked about preparing a document for publicly disseminating [showing] what happened up to 1999, and “if you [Sisowath Thomico] could not answer, you, prince go to Prey Sar [prison]. I'd like to stress this. I cannot take this. I am willing to lower myself, not just stepping down from my post but also submitting myself to the tribunal in the event it was found that I was the one causing the loss of the Kingdom of Cambodia's territory. Let the court try me, be it a national or international tribunal.” Continuing, Hun Sen said: “Who did this? It is the same group, the one that sentenced the king [Sihanouk] to death. Those people in fact wanted to insult the king. They, however, dared not do it.”
Hun Sen said the royal government and the National Assembly work together on this border issue and retorted to non-governmental organizations saying that “non-governmental organizations are set up by even five persons; there is nothing difficult about setting up non-governmental organizations.” Hun Sen added: “Even the king [Sihanouk] dared to issue a statement, on 9 or 10 [October], defending the royal family, and all former kings since the Angkor period, no matter how bad those kings. So, why not give Hun Sen the chance to defend himself? Who does not know history, Chey Chetha II [a Cambodian king who married a Vietnamese and allowed Vietnamese to settle in former Cambodian territory].”
Hun Sen provided details on a member of the Cambodian royal family in France saying: “In 1949, the French parliament met and Cambodia's representative was Prince Yukanthor, who cast an abstention vote on his own territory. He not only did not claim the land back but also voted abstention. And then I was accused of causing the territory loss. Now, let's have a talk, regardless of who I have to face. I am lowering myself, not just stepping down from my position. I will remove myself and also remove my immunity myself; because it is easy to remove immunity. Resigning from being a parliament member will remove the immunity. I will go to court to be tried.
However, this is not different from the story the other day. Swearing in front of all the Buddha statues: those who violated their words will be struck by lighting [a very offending curse for Cambodians] [applause]. I am not putting a curse.”
Hun Sen added: “And do not say [Sisowath Thomico] is the former king's nephew and the current king's cousin. Just watch.” Continuing, Hun Sen said: “I have been too patient for too long. This is the limit of my patience. In any case, my loss of patience will go as far as the law allows. If I did not abide by law, the armed forces are in my hands, no one can object. If [armed forces commander in chief] Ke Kimyan did not do it, I will use Kun Kim [a senior army general close to Hun Sen].
However, Ke Kimyan has to do it, if not he will be removed. Do not think because you are a four-star general; even if you have the moon [and not star on your shoulder], you will be removed.” Hun Sen also stressed: “I am not Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk. Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk let others stage a coup. Hun Sen will not. Do not gamble on trying this. You do it, you die. You are told in advance. And let this be passed on to the one who appealed at the end of 1993 [changes thought] 2003 to the armed forces to turn their weapons against the government. Consider yourself lucky, lucky in the sense that Hun Sen did not sue you then. Why? Hun Sen wanted to see whether your appeal was heeded? And if people responded to your appeal, only five persons would open fire on Hun Sen, and you died. I wanted to tell you this. Hun Sen did not sue you because he wanted to see your real strength. Now it is passed the time suing you, the chairman of something. I am not naming you, but do not use this language again. Using the language appealing to the armed forces to revolt against the government does not have to pass through the tribunal, you will be arrested in your house. You will be arrested first, followed by the discussion with the tribunal later. This is a coup d'etat crime, and not one of instigation. It is a crime of ordering coup d'etat. You will be arrested in your house. Let's talk clearly about this for once.”
Hun Sen then talked about the “weak point” of article 2 of the Cambodian constitution on using only the “100,000 maps printed between 1933 and 1953” produced by the French authorities in negotiating Cambodia's border issues with neighbouring countries. Hun Sen argued that Cambodia should have talked only about maps printed “before 1953” which would allow Cambodia to make use of older maps “from 1928, or 1897”. Hun Sen added that this was not because “the government or the prime minister did not know about this, but the prime minister did not expose his own constitution to others, to neighbouring countries”.
Referring to comments that “the government is launching a campaign to repress democracy, democracy activists,” Hun Sen said: “If you did not say something wrong, I have no need to sue you. I have not closed down your radio or newspaper. I only arrested individuals. I have not closed down your non-governmental organizations.”
Saying that the issue of selling territory is “a serious one, one of treason”, Hun Sen said: “Even though the king wanted to defend his family members, no matter what [king] Chey Chetha II remained a traitor. The king has the right to defend royal family members from the Angkor period down to Norodom Sihanouk, but who does not about this story. It is since the 1600s, at which time all of us were still monkeys, and not yet reborn as humans. This is history.”
Referring to the “vast territory” of Cambodia now shrunk to the size of the palm of a hand, Hun Sen asked “Why did you not claim the territory back then” but “blamed the young generation instead”. Continuing, Hun Sen said: “Let's be clear about this. It was just that I did not want to talk about it earlier. Now it is time Hun Sen talks about it. Hun Sen will talk about it when the time comes.” Hun Sen also talked abut playing back “the tape recorded in Fere-en-Tardenois [town in France where secret talks were held between Sihanouk and Hun Sen] on 2 December 1987” in which Hun Sen corrected Sihanouk on the area of Cambodia when Sihanouk said Cambodia covers 181,000 sq kilometres and Hun Sen injected that it is “181,035”.
Towards the end of his lengthy speech Hun Sen also briefly talked about the US war in Iraq, saying “even when the United States sent troops to fight in Iraq, the American people never insulted President Bush of being traitors. At most they said the father and the son are the same. The senior Bush attacked Iraq, and the junior Bush again attacked Iraq.”
Hun Sen also warned: “Those supporters in the background who whisper things, regardless of they are, watch it, I may implicate you.” Concluding his comment on the border demarcation with Vietnam Hun Sen said: “The big issue is which maps to use, which ones; the ones that the king deposited at the United Nations. I followed what the father said. If the father said this was wrong, then the father was also wrong. This is the only conclusion.”
Hun Sen added: “After the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops [from Cambodia] in 1989 after toppling the Pol Pot genocidal regime, there were no Vietnamese troops along the border like in the 1960s. No, there were not any; they were on their side on the border, we were on ours. Whatever problems we have the authorities along the border have made efforts to solve them.” He also reiterated what he said earlier in his address about praying that those who violated their words be struck by lightning.
Raising the tone of his voice almost throughout the following passage of his speech Hun Sen said: “Right now I am the one administering the country. I should have the right to defend myself, defend the royal government, and forward the matter to parliament. In a parliamentary system, the royal government is set up by parliament. If the government did not do it correctly, parliament should not ratify it. If parliament ratified it, it is the end of it. Even the Senate has no right to oppose the decision by parliament, only the right to return it [to parliament]. However, if parliament maintained that decision, it [pause for nearly 10 seconds] it [the Senate] has to go along with parliament's decision. Even though the number of Senate members is half that of the National Assembly, the constitution does not allow the Senate to have the right to reject the National Assembly's decision, let alone the head of state, or the king, because the power rests with the people.
“I heard it said that the signing [of the border treaty] will have to be done by the acting head of state. I do not know who will sign it. All I know is that once parliament adopted it, that is the end of it. This time around, I talked about it in advance. I have already said this to the samdech krom preah [National Assembly President] Ranariddh. I said prince [changes thought] I already said to Excellencies Sun Chanthol, Kol Pheng, Ung Kantha-phavi, and Sisowath Panara in the aircraft [returning from Vietnam], and I also told the samdech krom preah in the telephone conversation that if this time around it is difficult to sign it, we should reconsider whether we should keep the monarchy or change to a republic with a president instead. Or at least include into the constitution an article stipulating that it [the border treaty] should be signed within a number of days, failing which it will take effect.
[Hun Sen at this point turned to talk about the Thai monarchy and the Thai government] Even the Thai king has to provide a reasonable reason. The law declaring the state of emergency in the south faces many problems. When it was submitted, the Thai king did not sign it; it seemed like for three days. The Thaksin government then asked why it was not signed. One reason given was that there were too many orthographic mistakes in it. This law was very contentious. So, the royal palace and the royal government set up a joint group to correct the orthography. The king then signed it, because once parliament has adopted, it will go forward, there is nothing else.
[Turning to the Cambodian situation] This is because the ones with responsibility are the National Assembly and the government elected by the people. If there were one person to go to prison for this, it would be this one, here, and not the king or the head of state. This is an issue that should be clearly said. Saying this is not putting pressure on the king or the acting head of state. However, we should be clear on the parliamentary and presidential systems; it is one or the other. We are now in the parliamentary system with a reigning king as head of state. In the other system, which is the US system, a president is elected. However, the price to pay is the abolishment of the monarchy and the throne, and no more king.
All of us, however, strive to maintain the constitutional monarchy and defend the throne. A number of persons, however, like to cheat the young generation. This is a violation. And let's wait for this evening; there will be many comments saying that this guy [Hun Sen] is talking as though he is on fire. I have put up with this for a long time. Non-governmental organizations, please carry on doing your work; and foreigners, please do not interfere.
“[Referring to those he recently sued for defamation] The other day, he almost crossed the border. However, young brother, Prey Sar prison was waiting for you; while the [UN]HCR [High Commission of Refugees] was waiting on the other side. As far as we know, the HCR is keeping two persons. Now that warrants have been issued, we should contact Thailand. Let the HCR took the two to board the Thai aircraft, then arrest them and send them to Cambodia. That would end the matter since there is an extradition agreement.”
As he ended his speech Hun Sen again talked about the prospect of having to choose between the presidential and the parliamentary system. He said: “I apologized for using this platform [a monastery] to talk about agriculture, farming production at the end of the rainy season and in the dry season, and the National Route 7 on the one hand, and on the other, the border issue, which is related to a big subject that could lead to a clear social reorganization. What regime is needed: a presidential or parliamentary system? There should be a price for the two in order to resolve some issues. Otherwise, the same things would go on; history would repeat itself, and this is unacceptable.”
Immediately after this two-hour long report with Hun Sen's speech, TVK aired an announcer-read message, dated 27 September 1999, from Sihanouk to Vietnamese leader Pham Van Dong on the border issue in which Sihanouk proposed the “recognition of the Brevie line” to demarcate the Cambodian-Vietnamese maritime border. The rest of this extended TVK programme consisted of petitions, read by a male announcer, from people in Kampong Cham Province voicing support for the government's handling of the border problem with Vietnam.