A Cambodian government official dismissed jailed opposition party spokesman Meach Sovannara’s lawsuit in the United States accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son and the Cambodian government of wrongfully imprisoning the Cambodia National Rescue Party official.
Council of minister’s spokesperson Phay Siphan told RFA’s Khmer Service on Wednesday that the government is unconcerned about the lawsuit because Cambodia is a sovereign nation and does not come under U.S. law.
“In that case, they can do what they want,” he told RFA. “If you want to file a complaint, do it because that court is not an international court that has jurisdiction, and it has no power to take any action or judge any country.”
While the Cambodian government may be unconcerned about the lawsuit, Hun Manet, the prime minister’s son and a general in the Cambodian military who is considered the successor to his father, has decided to hire an attorney to fight the lawsuit.
Morton Sklar, Meach Sovannara’s attorney, filed the suit April 8 in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleging that Hun Manet’s family connections and leadership role within Cambodia’s security forces make him liable for the emotional and financial damage borne by Meach Sovannara’s family for his imprisonment.
Meach Sovannara, who holds both Cambodian and U.S. citizenship, and 10 other opposition figures were sentenced to prison terms of up to 20 years on insurrection charges after a demonstration in July 2014 that resulted in violent clashes between protesters and security forces in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park.
Meach Sovannara and the other opposition activists received stiff sentences, but rights groups say that none of the defendants was identified as having committed an act of violence during the event.
A hearing on preliminary motions in the lawsuit is scheduled for Sept. 1, and Sklar says a ruling in Meach Sovannara’s favor “could prove potentially embarrassing, [to Hun Manet and the Cambodian government] including their role in the violent attack on Paul Hayes when he was delivering service of process in the case.”
Hayes was severely injured when he was allegedly beaten up by Hun Manet’s bodyguards while attempting serving him with the subpoena in the lawsuit.
Online videos appear to show Long Beach police spraying tear gas at Hun Manet’s bodyguards and protesters after a Hayes was allegedly assaulted by the bodyguards while serving Hun Manet with the subpoena in the Meach Sovannara lawsuit.
Sklar told RFA that the Long Beach Police Department has opened a criminal investigation into the altercation.
While foreign government sovereignty usually protects foreign officials from facing trial in the U.S. just as U.S. leaders are protected from lawsuits abroad, the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act contains an exception for violent action against U.S. citizens abroad, explained Sklar.
RFA could not reach either Hun Manet or defense ministry spokesperson, Chhum Socheat for comments, but Hun Manet’s attorney, John Purcell told RFA that the accusations made in Meach Sovannara’s complaint are “groundless.”
Reported and Translated by RFA's Khmer Service. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.