Seng Sary, a Cambodian political commentator who fled the country after a warrant was issued for his arrest, said he has been granted political asylum in Australia.
Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered Mr. Sary’s arrest last year, saying the analyst had voiced support for opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s idea of forming a shadow government. However, the prime minister later rescinded and said Mr. Sary would not be arrested and should be left to continue his work.
Mr. Sary, who was in Thailand when Hun Sen first ordered his arrest, never returned to Cambodia however. He remained in Thailand and then travelled to Australia, where he told CamboJA he has now received asylum.
“I received political asylum in Australia,” he said. “I came about four weeks ago.”
Phnom Penh Municipal Court acquitted Mr. Sary of the conspiracy and incitement charges the day after Hun Sen ordered the arrest warrant rescinded, but Am Sam Ath, director at rights group Licadho, said it was natural that Mr. Sary was scared to return.
“He was worried about his personal security so he sought political asylum in Australia,” Mr. Sam Ath said, noting that government critics, like prominent political commentator Kem Ley, have been murdered in Cambodia before.
“We are saddened when independent analysts or people who dare to express critical comments have to leave Cambodia because it means we lose the people who can help reform our country,” Mr. Sam Ath said.
Meas Nee, a social researcher, said that Mr. Sary wouldn’t be able to trust that he’d be left alone if he did return to Cambodia, because the judiciary is not independent.
“If he’d returned, there’s a chance he could be accused of other things if he continued to make comments critical of the government,’ Mr. Nee said.
Last month, Ratt Rott Mony, a Cambodian fixer for Russian Today (RT), and his family won political asylum in the U.S. after he was imprisoned in 2018 for his work on a documentary about the alleged sexual trafficking of underaged girls. This month, land activist Sat Pha fled to Thailand after receiving a death threat.
And, in December last year, monk activist Bor Bet received political asylum in Switzerland, after he fled Cambodia after joining protests demanding the release of a jailed labor union leader.