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Hun Sen Publicly Chastises Radio Reporter

Prime Minister Hun Sen chastised a Radio Free Asia reporter as "insolent" Thursday, in the third public brouhaha between authorities and journalists this month.

Catching Hun Sen outside the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, RFA reporter Keo Nimuol asked whether the recent sacking of a Funcinpec tourism minister meant the end of coalition partnership between the ruling Cambodian People's Party and the royalists.

The question incited a tirade from the prime minister.

"What institution do you represent?" Hun Sen barked. "RFA is always like that. RFA's name, the question, I use one word, go ahead and broadcast it.

"I am telling you, I have seen RFA's face," Hun Sen said. "Your radio station is insolent, and the one who asks questions is insolent too. You see for yourself; why do you need to ask? Funcinpec's ministers, state secretaries, undersecretaries and deputy prime ministers are here. I am speaking here now so that Cambodian TV stations tell RFA, not only is RFA insolent, even the one who asks questions is insolent."

The word the prime minister used translates as insolent but has much stronger implications in Cambodia's hierarchic culture.

"It is normal that when a person in power blames us [that] we are concerned and unhappy," reporter Keo Nimuol said. "His words are serious, like the insolent, the rude one, the radio station is insolent."

He always addresses the prime minister by the proper title, "samdech," he said. "We said, 'Samdech, what do you think about the cessation of the alliance between the CPP and Funcinpec?' It is a general question posed by journalists who need information for their stories, and he can answer the question however he likes."

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he worried such a public display would embolden Hun Sen supporters looking to curry favor into harming the journalist.

Cambodia Center for Human Rights Director Ou Vireak said the threat was a "continuation" of a trend.

"The present threat is a continuation of threats on press freedom and journalistic freedom," he said. "In cases where the people in power issue threats at their will, journalism is made stagnant" and democracy is endangered.

Earlier this month, a high-ranking police official tried forcing a local reporter to his knees, to apologize for a too-familiar address, and another RFA reporter was threatened with arrest and had his identification card taken away while covering a student demonstration in Siem Reap.