The brutal slaying of political critic Kem Ley continued to reverberate across Cambodia’s political landscape on Monday as Prime Minister Hun Sen sued a pair of opposition lawmakers for suggesting he was involved in the murder.
According to the lawsuit filed in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court by Hun Sen’s attorney Ky Tech, the prime minister contends he was defamed by remarks Cambodia National Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy posted on Facebook that links Cambodian authorities to the July 10 killing.
Sam Rainsy Party Senator Thak Lany also faces a defamation suit for making similar allegations in a speech.
While the Sam Rainsy Party merged with the Human Rights Party to form the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the party still holds seats in the Senate. It is expected to fully integrate with the CNRP after the national elections in 2018.
A Cambodian court has charged a former soldier named Oeuth Ang with premeditated murder for the execution-style killing of Kem Ley. Authorities have said that Kem Ley was killed over an outstanding $3,000 debt to Oueth Ang, who gave his name as Chuob Samlab, a Khmer name meaning “meet to kill.”
Authorities contend that Oueth Ang confessed to the killing, but few appear to believe the official version of the story. More than a million Cambodians turned out on July 24 for Kem Ley’s funeral procession from Phnom Penh to his hometown in southern Takeo province.
An attempt to mislead, attack and incite
Ky Teck told RFA that Monday's suit asserts that Sam Rainsy’s accusation is an attempt to mislead the public, defame Hun Sen, attack the dignity of Hun Sen’s government, incite social upheaval and interfere with ongoing judicial proceedings.
The attorney says that on July 29 Senator Thak Lany spoke to several CNRP supporters at a forum held in Ratanakiri province telling them: “Now Hun Sen, who has been frustrated and restless, shot Kem Ley, the political analyst. You see?”
Ky Tech contends her speech was an attempt to implicate Hun Sen in the murder and could trigger public anger and cause social unrest.
On July 30, Thak Lany denied to RFA that she made the statement, adding that someone altered her words in a Facebook post to make it appear as if she was linking Hun Sen to the killing.
Senior CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhai Eang was less apologetic, addressing Hun Sen directly.
“If you are not happy with being accused, you need to take transparent and realistic measures to hold the murderer and those involved in the crime accountable,” he told RFA.
“After that, what a person says about you will be of no relevance. Let a politician’s opinion be judged by the people, not by the court”.
The suit asks Sam Rainsy to pay 100 riel ($0.025) to Hun Sen as compensation and urges the court to punish the opposition leader. The complaint's allegation of inciting the public suggests that Sam Rainsy could also face a charge of inciting social unrest in addition to defamation if the court accepts the lawsuit.
The government is pursuing a number of cases against high-profile opposition party officials and rights workers, drawing widespread condemnation from the international human rights community as well as from foreign aid donors, excluding China.
CNRP President Sam Rainsy has been staying in France or traveling since an arrest warrant was issued for him in November over a 2008 defamation case and he was removed from his office and stripped of his parliamentary immunity. After Sam Rainsy left the country, the CNRP named Kem Sokha its acting president.
Other cases include a push by Hun Sen’s government and the ruling CPP to bring Kem Sokha before the courts for questioning regarding his alleged affair with a young hairdresser.
That case has seen the arrest of four employees of the human rights group ADHOC and a member of the National Election Commission (NEC), while an arrest warrant was also issued for a U.N. worker. Heavily armed police also attempted to arrest Kem Sokha at CNRP headquarters in May.
The Kem Sokha-related cases are not the only ones that are tied up in the Cambodian judicial system. About a dozen opposition party members are imprisoned in Cambodia, including Hong Sok Hour, a member of the senate from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.
Black Mondays return
While Hun Sen and the CPP are pushing their case in court, outspoken land rights activist Tep Vanny led a group of villagers on Monday in a resumption of the “Black Monday” campaign of weekly civil rights protests.
After taking a break from the Monday protests, the demonstrators expanded their 13-week protest for the release of the jailed rights activists and the NEC member to include the investigation of Kem Ley’s murder.
“We want them to cooperate with the court to find justice for the jailed human rights workers and other jailed activists,” Tep Vanny said. “We call on the government to find the real killer of Dr. Kem Ley and those who are behind it.”
“If the government is clean, as it claims to be, it has to prove it,” Tep Vanny added. “We cannot let our patriots get killed one after another while the real perpetrators always remain at large.”
Reported by Chandara Yang and Tha Thai for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.