Cambodian PM hits opposition chief with new defamation suit

Jan 18, 2017

Cambodia's exiled opposition leader is facing new defamation lawsuits stemming from a Facebook post that accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of offering a young political operative $1 million to attack the opposition

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia's exiled opposition leader is facing two new defamation lawsuits stemming from a Facebook post that accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of offering a young political operative $1 million to attack the opposition.

Hun Sen said in his lawsuit filed Wednesday that opposition leader Sam Rainsy's post was false and demanded $1 million in compensation. The political operative named in the social media post, Thy Sovantha, also denied the accusation and filed a separate defamation case on Tuesday that seeks $250,000.

"I welcome Hun Sen's complaint to Cambodia's Kangaroo Court as its discussion means more publicity for Hun Sen's shameful acts," Sam Rainsy responded on Twitter.

The lawsuits are the latest legal problems for Sam Rainsy, head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party. The cases against him and other party members are generally considered part of the prime minister's strategy to weaken his opponents ahead of local elections in June and a general election in 2018.

Sam Rainsy has been in exile since November 2015 to avoid a jail term on a defamation conviction that he had believed was covered by a royal pardon. In 2016, the government banned his re-entry from abroad, making it more difficult for him to fight the charges even if he chooses to return.

Hun Sen has led Cambodia for three decades, but a strong challenge from the Cambodia National Rescue Party in the 2013 general election seemed to shake his grip on power.

The ruling party has been accused in the past of using violence or threats against opponents but in recent years has stalked its foes mostly in the courts.

In December, Sam Rainsy was found guilty in absentia of conspiracy to incite chaos and using and falsifying public documents. His Facebook page had reposted from a fellow party member several poorly translated documents suggesting that Hun Sen's government had signed a treaty ceding territory to neighboring Vietnam, Cambodia's traditional enemy.

Eleven opposition party members and activists who received long prison sentences for insurrection meanwhile appeared at Cambodia's Supreme Court for a procedural hearing on their appeals. They received sentences ranging from seven to 20 years in July 2015.

Meach Sovannara, an opposition spokesman serving a 20-year sentence, said he and his colleagues had little faith they would receive justice from the court.

"We are political prisoners, therefore our cases can be solved throughout politics only," he said.