Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha has been summoned to appear in court on Thursday for questioning over controversial comments he allegedly made denying the notorious Khmer Rouge regime’s atrocities, but his party said he would ignore the order.
The summons on Kem Sokha, the acting president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was related to a lawsuit filed by four survivors of the Khmer Rouge-era Tuol Sleng prison who claim he said that the jail was staged by Vietnamese soldiers who ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979.
Party spokesman Yim Sovann told RFA’s Khmer Service that Kem Sokha and the CNRP were not concerned about the lawsuit, saying it was part of a politically motivated case aimed at interfering with July 28 elections in which Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party is widely expected to win.
Kem Sokha will not obey the summons from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court as he is currently traveling in Australia, party spokesman Yim Sovann said.
“The court should focus on former Khmer Rouge leaders and those who were the killers during the regime,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
But Court Deputy Prosecutor Meas Chanpiseth said that regardless of whether or not the CNRP is concerned about the case, Kem Sokha has to comply with the law.
The communist Khmer Rouge regime killed an estimated two million people during its four-year reign of terror during which several thousand Cambodians were tortured and executed in the Tuol Sleng prison, also known as S-21, in central Phnom Penh.
Denials of Khmer Rouge-era atrocities were made illegal earlier this month by a law hastily passed by Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP)-dominated National Assembly, which had shut out opposition parliamentarians sacked just ahead of the proceedings.
Following the passage of the law, a 10,000-strong rally was held in Phnom Penh demanding Kem Sokha apologize for the alleged comments.
The CNRP said the rally had been organized by the CPP.
The lawsuit against Kem Sokha was filed under Article 305 of the penal code, which concerns public slander and sets out a fine for “undermining the honorable reputation” of a person or institution.
Earlier this month, Cambodian pro-government media carried remarks attributed to Kem Sokha saying that the Tuol Sleng prison had not been run by the Khmer Rouge and was instead an invention of the Vietnamese invaders.
Kem Sokha and the CNRP have said his remarks were “twisted” out of context to weaken the opposition ahead of the national elections.
But the four Tuol Sleng survivors filed the lawsuit this month to challenge the claim and are demanding U.S. $1,000 in damages.
“My clients filed defamation lawsuits so that the judge will find out whether the tape was edited,” the plaintiffs’ lawyer Koul Thunha said, referring to a purported recording of Kem Sokha’s remarks.
Court Deputy Prosecutor Meas Chanpiseth said it was too early to say whether Kem Sokha would be charged with public defamation, which carries the punishment of a fine.
“I will be taking the next steps after my initial investigation to see if he breached the law, and if so, I will file a charge against him,” he said Monday, adding that he had already questioned the plaintiffs.
CNRP signs destroyed
The CNRP, whose president Sam Rainsy is living in self-imposed exile to avoid a prison sentence on charges he denies, has called for major electoral reforms ahead of the polls, saying the National Election Committee is biased toward the ruling party.
On Monday, the CNRP said 10 of their signs in Banteay Meanchey were destroyed in actions that were politically motivated and aimed at interfering with their campaign.
Some of the signs were taken away and others were smeared with cow dung, while similar signs belonging to the CPP and its ally Funcinpec remained untouched, said Ke Samphor, a member of the CNRP’s precursor Sam Rainsy Party.
About 100 CNRP signs have so far been destroyed in the run-up to the elections, according to the party.
Ke Samphor said the destruction of the party’s signs was increasing.
“We think that it is politically motivated,” he said.
Reported by Zakariya Tin and Sophalmony Soun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.