The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has summoned Candlelight Party vice-president Son Chhay for questioning on July 12 over defamation lawsuits filed by the National Election Committee (NEC).
Chhay – who has been sued by both the NEC and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) over his recent interview with an online news outlet regarding alleged irregularities in the June 5 commune council elections – is also due to address the CPP’s lawsuit on July 15.
Court spokesman Phlong Sophal told The Post on July 4 that prosecutors had summoned Chhay and his lawyer.
The former lawmaker from the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), who has just returned from abroad, confirmed to The Post on July 4 that he will appear for questioning according to the court’s summonses.
His lawyer Chuong Choungy also told The Post that he had already received both summonses, noting that his client had just returned from Australia.
Choungy said he had prepared documents and evidence that he would offer in the defence of his client, who is alleged to have alluded to irregularities in the recent elections while speaking to the Cambodia Daily’s Idea Talk programme.
“What he [Chhay] said was related to the elections – it was political. Samdech Say Chhum is vice-president of the CPP, with a high position as president of the Senate. Why would he make allegations against Son Chhay, a politician in a powerless opposition party,” he said, using Say Chhum’s royal title.
“I don’t think it is appropriate for law enforcement or for democracy and human rights practice in Cambodia. Son Chhay is a politician, so the issue should be resolved politically,” he said.
Choungy added that NEC should not have filed a lawsuit against his client, because as public officials they should able to endure minor criticism.
Chhay told The Post that he had returned to Cambodia on July 3 and was ready to answer the court’s summonses.
“It is natural for the court to summon me when a lawsuit is filed. That is their job after all. I do wonder if it was reasonable for the lawsuits to have been filed, however. This is a problem,” he said.
NEC spokesman Som Sorida, who is acting as the NEC’s plaintiff, told The Post on July 4 that he had also received a summons from the court and that he and NEC representative Dim Sovannarom will appear on July 11 to answer questions related to the defamation lawsuit over Chhay’s June 7 interview with the Cambodia Daily.
In response to Choungy and Chhay, Sorida said the lawsuit had been filed because Chhay had crossed a line. He elaborated that if Chhay had seen any irregularities, he should have filed a complaint through NEC to solve the issue instead of “defamatory rhetoric”.
“He alleged that the NEC are thieves. The NEC was designated to administer the elections by the National Assembly who were elected by the will of the people; therefore, insulting the NEC is equivalent to insulting the people’s will,” he said.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan told The Post on July 4 that the party will not negotiate with anyone who accuses the party of conspiring with the NEC to rig the ballots.
“Just like stealing another person’s livestock, it is not right. Chhay’s allegations were serious, and not protected by freedom of speech,” he said.
“He offered no evidence, just accusations. Not taking action over this would lead to political anarchy. We must abide by the law and allow the people to see that the CPP contested the elections in a transparent manner, and did not collude with anyone,” he said.
On June 14, the CPP filed a lawsuit against Chhay, alleging that he had publicly made misleading comments on its conduct during the commune elections. It asked the court to prosecute him and also demanded $1 million compensation for mental anguish.
Three days later, NEC asked the court to charge Chhay with public defamation under Article 305 of the Criminal Code and also requested the court order him to publicly apologise in writing.