Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) shakes hands with National Assembly president Heng Samrin (R) during a ceremony marking the anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime in Phnom Penh, Jan. 7, 2016.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s lawyer on Friday accused opposition party leaders of using the murder of popular government critic Kem Ley for political purposes.
Following an appearance in Phnom Penh Municipal Court, attorney Ky Tech told reporters that Sam Rainsy Party Senator Thak Lany and Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Sam Rainsy saw an opportunity to stir up public feelings after the July 10 murder and they took it.
“By placing the blame on Hun Sen it was [Thak Lany's] intention to trigger public anger that may lead to social unrest,” Ky Tech told reporters. “Such an ill-intentioned act is intended to twist the truth and create a misperception about Samdech Decho Prime Minister Hun Sen.”
Hun Sen has sued Thak Lany and Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Sam Rainsy for defamation over remarks they allegedly made that tie Kem Ley’s murder to the prime minister.
While the Sam Rainsy Party merged with the Human Rights Party to form the CNRP, the party still holds seats in the Senate. It is expected to fully integrate with the CNRP after the national elections in 2018.
“Sam Rainsy took advantage of the opportunity to distort the truth for the sake of political gain,” Ky Tech said. “Such an act is nothing short of an intention to violate the Cambodian Penal Code.”
Ky Tech’s remarks seem to indicate that Hun Sen wants to pursue the more serious “incitement” charge as well as the defamation charge in his legal action.
While Thak Lany denies making the comments, saying her speech was edited in an effort to make it appear that she was blaming Hun Sen for the murder, Sam Rainsy renewed his accusations this week.
Sam Rainsy doubles down
“Those who should be put in jail are the very government officials who were behind the deadly 1997 grenade attack, the assassination of Mr. Chea Vichea in 2004, the murder of Mr. Chut Wutty in 2012 and the killing of Dr. Kem Ley on 10 July 2016,” Sam Rainsy wrote in a Facebook post.
At least 16 people were killed and more than 150 injured in the 1997 grenade attack that is widely viewed as an attempt to assassinate Sam Rainsy.
Chea Vichea was the leader of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC) when he was murdered in 2004.
Chut Wutty, founder and Director of the Natural Resource Protection Group, was killed in 2012 near a protected forest where he repeatedly attempted to expose illegal logging rackets that involved military officials.
Opposition lawyer Sam Sokong, who is representing the both Sam Rainsy and Thak Lany, said he has evidence that shows the lawsuits lack merit.
“Everyone has the right to file a lawsuit,” he said. “However, a proper and good court of law needs to rule on the merits and admissibility of the lawsuit.”
Too little money
Hun Sen’s lawsuit is not the only one Sam Rainsy is facing. On Aug. 1, the same court convicted Sam Rainsy of defaming National Assembly President Heng Samrin, who is also a top official in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
Ky Tech, who is also Heng Samrin’s attorney, told reporters that his client plans to appeal an Aug. 1 defamation verdict because the 150 million riels (U.S. $36,586) the court ordered Sam Rainsy to pay in damages is too little. Heng Samrin wants to double that amount.
“He said he was not satisfied with the court ruling,” Ky Tech told reporters. “The 150-million riels the court has ordered Sam Rainsy to pay does not compensate for the damage he has caused to samdech’s dignity.”
Samdech is a Cambodian honorific awarded by the king. It is roughly equivalent to an English knighthood.
Heng Samrin sued Sam Rainsy for defamation over a video the CNRP president posted on Facebook in 2015 that shows former King Norodom Sihanouk giving a speech with the words: “We remember that the regime born on 7 January 1979 used their court [system] to sentence [late] King Norodom Sihanouk to death on the accusation of being a traitor.”
Heng Samrin was president of Cambodia from 1979 to 1992, leading a government installed following an invasion by Vietnam that ended the four-year rule of the bloody Khmer Rouge regime. Heng Samrin contended the Facebook statement negatively affected his reputation.
Norodom Sihanouk was King of Cambodia between 1941 and 1955 and from 1993 to 2004. He died in 2012 of a heart attack and was succeeded by his son, Norodom Sihamoni.
Sam Rainsy has been living abroad since he was stripped of his parliamentary immunity in 2015 because of a warrant issued for his arrest in another defamation case in which he accused Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong of running a prison for the Khmer Rouge.
Reported by Vuthy Tha for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.