A Cambodian court on Tuesday found opposition party president Sam Rainsy guilty of defamation for claiming that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s social medial team bought “likes” on Facebook from “click farms” abroad to increase his support.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordered the head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to pay 10 million riels (about U.S. $ $2,500) and 15 million riels (about $3,720) in fines and compensation.
Judge Im Vannak also said the court’s decision would be broadcast for three days through the media, according to a report in The Cambodia Daily. He also said Sam Rainsy had damaged the honor of Som Soeun, a government minister involved in Hun Sen’s social media campaign who filed the defamation lawsuit in March.
Sam Rainsy told RFA’s Khmer Service during a live interview that strongman Hun Sen “should be liable for compensating the Cambodian people for all his lies and purchasing ‘likes’ for his Facebook [page].”
“American companies and Facebook can confirm that Hun Sen’s Facebook is full of fake ‘likes,’” he said. “He is again a coward for fabricating his popularity and asking his petty people to sue me in his stead.”
Sam Rainsy, who has been in exile abroad for a year to avoid a two-year prison sentence handed down in a separate defamation case, has other cases pending against him.
He went on to say that it was “hilarious” that Hun Sen’s Facebook page, which is available only in the Khmer language, had received almost a million likes from people in foreign countries such as India where Khmer is not spoken.
“How could about a million Indians know and support Hun Sen when they don’t even speak the language on his Facebook posts?,” asked Sam Rainsy “So, the bottom line is millions of his like have been purchased.”
Reporters at The Phnom Penh Post in March analyzed the countries of origin for “likes” on Hun Sen’s Facebook page after he had surpassed 3 million fans and found that only 20 percent of them originated in Cambodia. Their analysis showed that in the previous month more than half the “likes” were from abroad—mostly from India and the Philippines—calling into question their legitimacy.
‘He is afraid to face me’
The opposition leader said that he could never win in the Cambodian courts, despite presenting strong evidence, because they are “puppets of the government.”
“The court cases brought against me by Hun Sen’s government are attempted to refrain me from competing in the next elections,” Sam Rainsy said, in a reference to Cambodia’s next general elections in 2018.
“Hun Sen is a coward,” he said. “He is afraid to face me. However, I will do my best to make sure I can return to Cambodia to join the upcoming elections.”
Sam Rainsy's lawyer told Reuters that the opposition plans to appeal the court ruling.
On Monday, Sam Rainsy rallied to the defense of CNRP Senator Hong Sok Hour who was sentenced to a seven-year prison term for posting a disputed copy of the border agreement between Cambodia and Vietnam on Facebook in 2015.
In an open letter, Sam Rainsy accused strongman Hun Sen of using the courts to punish a political opponent and “pervert the election process by creating and maintaining an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.”
Deputy CNRP party leader Kem Sokha has been hiding out in the party’s headquarters in Phnom Pehn for several months because of an alleged affair with a young hairdresser a five-month jail sentence for refusing to appear in court to testify in a related case.
The CNRP sees such court cases by Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) as attempts to disrupt its activities in the run-up to local elections next June and general elections the following year that could bring an end to the prime minister’s 31 years in power.
CNRP candidates will run against those of the CPP in the general elections, seeking to prevent Hun Sen from winning a fifth term in office.
Reported by Vuthy Huot RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.