Cambodian ruling party sues commentator for defamation

AP News
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Posted: Apr 25, 2016 11:55 AM

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia's ruling party filed a complaint Monday accusing a prominent social commentator of criminal defamation for saying the party manipulated a sex scandal involving an opposition leader.

The complaint filed by Sok Eysan, spokesman of the Cambodian People's Party, charged that Ou Virak, who heads the Future Forum think tank, made a false allegation that damaged the party's honor. The lawsuit seeks compensation of 400,000,000 riel ($100,000).

The ruling party of Prime Minister Hun Sen has in recent years turned increasingly to the courts to harass and intimidate its opponents and critics. Rights groups charge that Cambodia's court system is subject to political interference.

Virak commented several days ago to the U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia about a scandal involving taped phone calls between Kem Sokha, deputy leader of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party, and at least two women. The calls, which were posted on the Internet, appeared to indicate that Sokha was having an adulterous affair.

Two women have since filed lawsuits against Sokha. One of them acted after being charged with prostitution for allegedly accepting gifts from Sokha.

Shortly before the suit was filed, Hun Sen had said on his Facebook page that "We respect freedom of expression but we are strongly opposed to anyone who makes false accusations damaging the honor and credit of the Cambodian People's Party."

Last year, Hun Sen put an end to an uneasy political truce with the opposition party which he had reached in 2014 to end an opposition boycott of Parliament. The opposition had mounted a surprisingly strong challenge against Hun Sen's party in the 2013 general election, which it accused the government of stealing.

Sam Rainsy, head of the Cambodian National Rescue Party, is in exile because of legal cases pending against him. Several other party lawmakers are also facing various charges.

Virak said the complaint against him amounted to suppression of freedom of expression, with the real victim being the Cambodian people and society.

He said he also feared for his personal safety.