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Thy Sovantha threatens new suit

Thy Sovantha speaks to the press outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in 2016.
Thy Sovantha speaks to the press outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in 2016. Pha Lina

Thy Sovantha threatens new suit

Social media celebrity and card-carrying CPP member Thy Sovantha yesterday said she will file a lawsuit against wildlife NGO head Suwanna Gauntlett alleging discrimination after the latter allegedly denied her access to an ecotourism program the group is launching today in Koh Kong province.

The threat is the latest in a long line of lawsuits filed or threatened by Sovantha, who was once an opposition darling for her social media campaign that aided the CNRP’s surprising electoral gains in 2013. In recent years, however, she turned on the opposition, and has instead cosied up to Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party.

The social media celebrity’s penchant for filing lawsuits has seen her sue former CNRP President Kem Sokha for disparaging her in a leaked private phone call, two opposition activists for questioning the attendance at one of her NGO events, and ex-opposition leader Sam Rainsy for claiming she took $1 million from the premier to fund anti-opposition activities – an accusation based on leaked text logs, purportedly between her and Hun Sen.

Following the CNRP’s dissolution in November, Sovantha even threatened to sue the CNRP’s more than 5,000 elected officials as accomplices to an alleged treasonous plot.

Sovantha’s grouse with Gauntlett stems from her intentions to join a group of youth that were invited by Wildlife Alliance to experience an ecotourism project and camping location in Koh Kong’s Areng Valley, with the trip starting today.

While she received permission from local authorities to join the group, Sovantha yesterday said that Gauntlett refused to take her along.

“When I asked her [Gauntlett], she just replied that I am famous already and do not need to go with her team,” Sovantha said yesterday.

She then claimed that Gauntlett was angry with her for questioning Wildlife Alliance’s activities, but did not elaborate on this.

Sovantha also released an audio recording purportedly between her and an assistant to Gauntlett, with the latter saying Sovantha should not come on this trip and opt instead for the next excursion, because she could be a distraction.

Sovantha said Gauntlett had three days to issue a public apology and compensate her $100,000 for the self-inflicted hit to her reputation.

Failing this, Sovantha said she would file a complaint based on Article 265 of the Criminal Code for “discrimination”. The article deals primarily with employment practices and public services, and carries a prison sentence of up to one year,

Gauntlett and other senior NGO staffers could not be reached for comment yesterday.

However, one Wildlife Alliance staffer, who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorised to speak to the media, said Gauntlett refused Sovantha access to the camping trip because she was a political figure and Gauntlett wanted the focus to remain on the local community.

“She did not understand what we wanted, so she is angry with us. But we will write a letter to her to explain [the situation],” the staffer said.

Sovantha’s involvement in conservation work seems to have begun with her invitation to an environmental forum with Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2016, where she used a question and answer session to push a government narrative blaming small-time villagers for the country’s rampant deforestation. She later founded an NGO, but uses its forums to lash out at the opposition.

Koh Kong Governor Mithona Phouthorng only said that she had permitted Sovantha to join the camping trip but was unsure of Wildlife Alliance’s reasons for asking her not to come.

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