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Journalist in hiding following verbal attack by prime minister

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 21 May 2007 IFJ media release:

Journalist flees in fear after being targeted for abuse by Cambodian PM

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has voiced its shock and outrage after Cambodia's prime minister reportedly publicly dismissed a journalist as "insolent" and "rude" for asking questions.

Prime Minister Hun Sen attacked RFA radio reporter Keo Nimol on Thursday, May 17, after Keo questioned the future of the coalition between the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and the Funcinpec party.

"I am saying this so that all radio and TV stations in Cambodia broadcast that not only RFA as a radio station is insolent, but the reporter who asks question is more insolent," Prime Minister Hun Sen announced to media assembled at the Cambodia National Assembly.

IFJ President Christopher Warren expressed surprise that the prime minister would challenge a journalist so personally and forcefully, simply for asking a straightforward question.

"It is unacceptable that the prime minister has so publicly shown such contempt and disrespect for a journalist and the role of media in a democratic society," Warren said.

"I urge Prime Minister Hun Sen to publicly clarify his comments in a way that will leave no one in any doubt as to the Cambodian government's commitment to the democratic process and the media's role in this - that is, promoting discussion and transparency for open democratic process," he said.

Keo is now in hiding and fears for his personal safety. After he attacked both Keo and RFA as "insolent", Prime Minister Hun Sen reportedly asked another journalist about Keo's real name, background and political leanings.

Warren said it appeared Prime Minister Hun Sen was trying to make an example of Keo as the country heads toward an election.

"The prime minister is only undermining the principles of democracy by attempting to discredit and silence those who question the power structures", Warren said.

"In the name of press freedom and journalists' safety in Cambodia, the prime minister must act to end the intimidation, or face the disapproval of the international community," he said.

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 115 countries.

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