A spokesman for Radio Free Asia based in Washington on Saturday said that claims made by Prime Minister Hun Sen that a former RFA reporter was a spy for the government were “ridiculous” and aimed at further undermining press freedom in the country.
Last month, Mr Hun Sen said RFA journalist Chun Chanboth, deputy-director of RFA’s US-based Khmer service, was his spy.
The premier explained that Mr Chanboth had asked for protection from Lieutenant General Hun Manet, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, and Brigade 70 commander Mao Sophann, because he feared that US agents would kill him.
The popular RFA commentator, who is also known as Huot Vuthy, allegedly failed to disclose his profession when he signed into Prey Sar prison to visit detainees with a delegation of opposition CNRP officials in April 2017. He fled the country shortly after to escape a court appearance.
Mr Hun Sen said Mr Chanboth has met with Lt Gen Manet and asked him to protect him from being killed by US agents.
“Do you know what Chun Chanboth said? He asked Lieutenant General Mao Sophan to protect him because he feared being killed by US agents – like Kem Ley was,” said Mr Hun Sen. “Chun Chanboth, do you swear that you have met with my son and with Lieutenant General Mao Sophann?”
“Please confess that you have worked with Lieutenant General Mao Sophan and Hun Manet,” he added. “None of my officials knew about it. I kept this secret for you.”
Rohit Mahajan, a spokesman for RFA in Washington, said via email on Saturday that the claims were ludicrous.
“Contrary to fiction, RFA’s Huot Vuthy did not violate company policy in talking to sources in trying to set up an interview with the Prime Minister last year. As with journalists at any credible news organization, RFA’s reporters can freely speak with officials,” he said.
RFA last year shuttered its operations within the country as the government cracked down on multiple media organisations for not complying with tax laws and Information Ministry registration laws.
Mr Mahajan added that Mr Chanboth notified RFA management of his conversations with Lt Gen Manet and Sophan, noting that they were simply to set up interviews.