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Some Not as Lucky as Refugee Reporter

[Editor’s note: Lem Pichpisey, a 40-year-old reporter for Radio Free Asia, arrived in Norway under UN protection last month following reported death threats and a flight with his family from Cambodia last year. The government and spokesmen for Prime Minister Hun Sen have repeatedly denied allegations of involvement in illegal logging, a subject of Lem Pichpisey’s reporting ahead of the threat. This is the second part of a Lem Pichpisey interview with VOA Khmer, by phone from his new home.]

Q. Can you briefly describe your situation while you lived temporarily in Thailand?

A. In Thailand, what I mainly faced was the law, because I lived illegally. If the Thais found out, they could send me right to prison and then back to Cambodia. Luckily, I asked [the UN High Commissioner for Refugees] to help, because I had received a death threat, due to my expression of sensitive information regarding illegal logging and land-grabbing. So the UNHCR registered my name on their list.

The UNHCR issued a certificate for me to hold onto. That certificate was not as strong as a passport or visa, which would have allowed travel anywhere in Thailand, but at least the certificate could be used if the Thais arrested me. I would show it to them so that I could call a number for UNHCR, and an officer would intervene, so Thai authorities wouldn’t send me back to Cambodia.

As I have already told you, in Thailand it was not an easy place. I faced a lot with my illegal stay, and I faced other problems as well. Other refugees from the Sam Rainsy Party, Khmer Kampuchea Krom and other Khmer political refugees, including myself, faced another matter, which was being secretly followed by Cambodian secret agents. There are many secret agents the Cambodian government has sent to investigate or follow us.

So we moved from place to place, and it was not easy, and, in the end, just before leaving for Norway, I was arrested by Thai authorities, who sent me to Thai jail because I had over-stayed in Thailand. They detained me for a week, like other Khmer people detained there. I was a bit luckier than the other Khmer people in that prison, because I had protection from UNHCR and I had been granted political asylum by Norway.

So I was sent out from Thailand through Suvarnabhumi airport, which was different from hundreds of other Khmer people, who are being detained and seriously tortured by the Thai prisoners who live in the prison with them. Thai prisoners extort the Khmer detainees at 10 baht [about $0.28] a day. I saw that Khmer people in Thailand have it very, very difficult, not just me. I saw hundreds of Khmer people sent to Thai jail and hundreds of them deported to Cambodia because they live illegally in Thailand.

Q. What is your living condition in Norway? Is it difficult or easy, having just arrived?

A. When I first arrived in Norway, what was most different was the weather. It is really, really cold, zero Celsius. I saw a sunny day when I first arrived, but two and three days later, I saw the snow fall. I saw ice around my house in Norway. I really like living here, because they provide me and my whole family with everything, including clothes, house, education, and social health care, letting us live equally with other citizens. We have a good human value over here, meaning we have freedom, not just the freedom of expression, but other freedoms, and equality, like other citizens. And the weather is no problem for my family.

Q. What do you plan to do next?

A. My goal for the rest of my life is to work to serve the Khmer people as a human rights defender and journalist forever. I also want to continue my education, to get a PhD, after which I will share my knowledge and experience with the young generation. Besides that, I will do some research and investigate a big case for the Cambodian people.

Q. Would you like to send any messages to journalists or human rights activists in Cambodia?

A. I would live to tell all local journalists, international journalists and senior journalists inside and outside Cambodia to maintain their stance, to broadcast and publish balanced, accurate and just news. What I want to say is, if we stand on the side of bringing accurate information to the people, we will be successful in the future.