Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered the arrest of a former monk and forestry activist living in exile who shared a disparaging poem about the country’s strongman on social media, RFA has learned.
Voeun Veasna currently resides in neighboring Thailand. A Khmer Times report on Oct. 11 described him as a 35-year-old activist affiliated with the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
On Oct. 9, Voeun Veasna used his Facebook account under the name Kranhoung Preylang to post a poem titled ‘Hun Sen is a Traitor’ on the prime minister’s own Facebook page. The poem criticized Sen for amending Cambodia’s constitution, thereby “destroying the country.”
The poem also accused Hun Sen of allowing Cambodia’s forests to be destroyed during his rule.
Hun Sen quickly responded to Voeun Veasna’s poem, calling it an expression of “extremist theory,” and called for his arrest, according to the Khmer Times report.
“Now there are extremist rebels left that need to be eliminated for peace to be maintained,” the report quoted Hun Sen as saying.
Hun Sen said that he hoped the police would track Voeun Veasna down, whether he was inside or outside the country.
Speaking from exile in Thailand, Voeun Veasna told RFA’s Khmer Service that his opinion on Hun Sen remains unchanged.
“I commented on Hun Sen’s Facebook because ever since I was born, I have not seen Hun Sen do anything to benefit his country and his people,” he said.
“Hun Sen has looked the other way as his powerful friends… stole land from the people. People are crying throughout the country, but Hun Sen has ignored them.”
The former monk said that his poem reveals the truth of Hun Sen’s leadership, andthat he plans to continue speaking out against the strongman.
“I am concerned about my security, but I don’t know what to do when this regime likes bloodshed,” he said.
Even though Hun Sen ordered his arrest this week, Voeun Veasna said that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court had already charged him with incitement in May and ordered his arrest. He said he would be arrested if he were to return to Cambodia.
Hun Sen, as a public figure, is not immune from criticism, and the government’s role should be to educate the public rather than punish them for their political opinions, Soeung Sengkaruna, spokesperson for the local ADHOC NGO told RFA.
“Our country is not open to criticism and has taken many actions against expression,” he said.
Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in November 2017, two months after arresting its president Kem Sokha over an alleged plot to overthrow the government. Scores of supporters of the group have since been incarcerated, awaiting a tortuous legal process made slower by COVID-19 restrictions.
The move came amid a wider crackdown by Hun Sen on the country’s political opposition, independent media, and NGOs that allowed the CPP to win all 125 seats in parliament in a July 2018 election and drew U.S. sanctions and the suspension of trade privileges with the European Union.
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