Australian lawmakers condemned Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday for remarks that he will attack anyone who protests against him when he travels to Sydney for a conference of regional leaders in mid-March.
The premier has said he will beat protesters who burn photos of him during his upcoming trip to Australia and threatened to boycott the ASEAN-Australian Special Summit on March 17-18 over pressure on his government for its crackdown on the opposition.
Some Cambodian-Australian residents have said they will burn Hun Sen in effigy during demonstrations coinciding with his visit while demanding the reinstatement of the dissolved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and the release of its jailed leader Kem Sokha.
Australian members of parliament Clare O’Neil, Mark Dreyfus, and Jim Chalmers condemned Hun Sen’s remarks and vowed to stand behind the Cambodian community in their country.
“Hun Sen has stated if there are demonstrations against his regime during his visit to Australia, he will pursue the demonstrators to their homes and beat them up,” O’Neil told the lower house on Thursday.
“[A] foreign leader is threatening violence against Australians who will be merely exercising their democratic rights,” she said, adding that the premier’s statement are “outrageous.”
Dreyfus called Hun Sen’s threats “unacceptable” and said on his Facebook page that “the right to peaceful protest without threats of violence is a cherished part of Australia's democracy.”
“The Australian government must make it clear, in no uncertain terms, to the Cambodian government, how unacceptable these threats are and how important it is that they be retracted immediately,” he said.
Chalmers, who represents a community that is home to a large Cambodian population, told his fellow legislators that he was appalled to hear Hun Sen’s “disgraceful, despicable and deplorable” threats of violence.
“You have every right to protest peacefully in this country, and on your behalf we condemn Hun Sen’s threats in the strongest possible terms, and we stand with you in your struggle for the basic political rights that you and your loved ones have been denied,” Chalmers said, directing his words to Cambodians in Australia.
Other Australian lawmakers, including Mark Butler, Anthony Byrne, and Chris Bowen, have also taken Hun Sen to task for threatening violence during his visit.
Without me, no summit
But Hun Sen said Thursday that he must attend the conference despite the opposition to his presence because without him there would be no ASEAN-Australia summit.
He also continued to urge Cambodian-Australians to vandalize seven-headed naga, or dragon, statues that decorate Cambodian temples in Australia if they want to hurt him spiritually.
Speaking to monks and supporters of his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) at a Buddhist ceremony at a temple in the Srey Santhor district of Kampong Cham province, Hun Sen bragged about his privilege as a leader of an ASEAN nation, saying that Australia had no choice but to invite him to the talks.
“Australia should thank me for availing myself to attend the ASEAN-Australia summit,” he said. “I was lobbied by the Australian government to attend that meeting.”
He went on to say that he could have declined the invitation on account of Senate elections that Cambodia held on Feb. 25 in which the CPP took all seats in an uncontested vote held just over three months after the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP.
“If I had said no, the upcoming summit would be meaningless,” he said. “Now that I am going to attend the summit, Australia will be responsible for my presence as a leader of a sovereign state.”
Hun Sen also suggested that if Cambodia, one of 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, decided to veto a joint communiqué, Australia would not have a joint statement from the summit.
“Don't ever think that I will cancel my trip to Australia because of your protests,” he said. “People who oppose me do not understand how ASEAN works. They just want to destroy the summit.”
Venerable But Buntenh, a Buddhist monk critical of Hun Sen’s leadership, told RFA’s Khmer Service on Wednesday that the premier is trying to confuse people to make them believe that burning effigies of him would not be not effective, when he knows the opposite is true.
“Burning the effigies of Hun Sen is the most effective way to hurt him spiritually, he said. “Hun Sen is now inciting people to vandalize the statues at Khmer temples.”
At home, Hun Sen has targeted the political opposition, NGOs, and independent media in a months-long crackdown to silence government critics ahead of a general election on July 29.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.