Shoe thrown at Hun Sen put up for auction to raise money for charity

Cambodian-American Ouk Touch says he hopes to sell the shoe for US$1 million
By RFA Khmer
A shoe thrown by former Cambodian soldier Ouk Touch flies past Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen during a visit to Washington, D.C., May 11, 2022.
Credit: Official TV

The man who threw a shoe at Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen last year says he got the shoe back from police – and plans to auction it off to raise money for charity work in the country.

Cambodia-American Ouk Touch says he hopes to raise U.S.$1 million.

Ouk Touch, 72, threw the shoe – from a pair of black $85 Clarks – at Hun Sen during his visit in May to Washington DC for a summit between the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. The shoe didn’t hit Hun Sun.

At the time, a video of the incident went viral on social media, and Cambodian officials rushed to condemn Ouk Touch and demand he be punished by U.S. authorities. Exposing someone to one’s shoe sole is considered an insult or repulsive gesture in many Asian and Mideastern cultures. 

But no charges have stemmed from the incident since, Ouk Touch said. “I wasn’t summoned to court. It has been quiet,” he said about any subsequent investigation. 

“I am happy that I got [the shoe] back,” he told Radio Free Asia. “I want to sell it so I can help the poor, victims and those who don’t have food to eat in Cambodia. I want to sell it for $1 million.” 

Anyone who wants to buy the shoe can reach him directly, he said.

The shoe that Ouk Touch threw at Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on May 11, 2022. Credit: Ouk Touch

“My action, it was just throwing a shoe at Hun Sen. But Hun Sen threw grenades at the Cambodian people, peaceful protesters. Hun Sen is a dictator, and he has killed many people, including my relatives,” said Touch, 72, a former soldier in the Cambodian army in the early 1970s. 

Ouk Touch was reportedly referring to when armed men attacked Hun Sen’s elected coalition partners in 1997, killing 16 people and wounding 150. No perpetrators of the attack have been brought to face trial. 

“I have intended to do this for a long time because I want him to be humiliated, nothing more than that,” he said, adding that after the incident he slept better.

Aside from a handful of visits since 1999 to the United Nations for annual meetings, Hun Sen has made very few trips to the United States. 

He attended the West Point graduation ceremony of his son and now designated heir,  Hun Manet, in May 1999. He also took part in the first U.S.-ASEAN summit hosted by former President Barack Obama in California in February 2016.

The U.S.-ASEAN summit hosted in May by U.S. President Joe Biden was part of his intent to center American foreign policy on the Indo-Pacific in response to the growing competition with China in the region. 

After the shoe-throwing incident, Hun Sen notably used it as justification for further targeting his political opponents

“If the U.S. considers shoe-throwing as freedom of expression, it is encouraging [the practice] in other countries,” he said a few days afterward. “Now I am concerned for the safety of the opposition party leaders…We can also throw shoes at opposition party leaders’ heads in Cambodia.”

In response to Ouk Touch’s announcement of wanting to auction the shoe, Cambodian government spokesperson Phay Siphan told RFA that there were differences between the United States and Cambodia in terms of culture, belief and respect. 

“Cambodia can’t accept it, Cambodia regards this action as an insult,” he said, but he added that he respects the decision made by U.S. authorities not to press charges.

Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Nawar Nemeh.


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