Rights groups and journalism associations Tuesday rebuked a provincial military commander who threatened to shoot a journalist and later said he was only joking.
Gen. Pol Sinuon threatened to shoot a reporter for Kampuchea Thmey, or New Cambodia, last week, according to the International Federation of Journalists, a Belgian free-press advocacy group.
The general later retracted his threat to Chim Chenda, saying he was "only kidding," the IFJ said in a statement, citing a report from an affiliate group, the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists.
"The incident showed flagrant disregard for journalist safety," IFJ President Christopher Warren said.
Cambodia has some of the freest press laws in Southeast Asia, often leading to conflicts between aggressive reporters and recalcitrant sources. The country's press is counted "partly free" by the monitoring group Freedom House, but many reporters feel they cannot safely report on all goings on there.
The Hong-Kong based Asia Human Rights Commission called the general's threat an abuse of power, while outlining the reported details of the encounter.
Chim Chenda had been eating in a Battambang restaurant with several security officers when Gen. Pol Sinuon arrived, greeting each of the officers but ignoring Chim Chenda, the Rights Commission said in a statement.
When the general learned Chim Chenda was a journalist, he asked if the reporter knew who he was.
"Chim Chenda answered that he knew the general and called him 'Brother Nuon,'" the Rights Commission said.
The general, angered by such a familiar address, said he would "kill" Chim Chenda if he "did not get on his knees and apologize," the group said.
Chim Chenda has filed suit against the general in Battambang provincial court, the Rights Commission said, adding that it "urges the Cambodian government take this case seriously and immediately conduct a thorough and impartial investigation."
Gen. Pol Sinuon "cannot escape" the criminal charges, the group said, "no matter how high his position in the military."