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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hun Sen demands $1M in Sam Rainsy defamation suit as CNRP stripped of status

Prime Minister Hun Sen (left) and Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng vote to strip CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha of his ‘minority leader’ title yesterday at the National Assembly. Opposition lawmakers boycotted the session. Photo supplied
Prime Minister Hun Sen (left) and Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng vote to strip CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha of his ‘minority leader’ title yesterday at the National Assembly. Opposition lawmakers boycotted the session. Photo supplied

Hun Sen demands $1M in Sam Rainsy defamation suit as CNRP stripped of status

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday threatened to have the court seize and sell the property of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, including the CNRP’s Phnom Penh headquarters, and proposed a legal amendment that would see him barred from leading a political party.

The prime minister issued the threats at a National Assembly session, during which the ruling party voted to rewrite parliamentary regulations to scrap the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s status as the legislature’s “minority” group, thus stripping its acting president Kem Sokha of the “minority leader” title.

But during an almost hour-long speech prior to the vote, it was Rainsy again in the firing line, with Hun Sen flagging moves to seize the CNRP president’s property to pay damages if he wins a $1 million defamation claim lodged against the exiled politician last month.

“I wait only for the verdict to be finalised. This time, I take money … Not [$1], as with [opposition Senator] Thak Lany. I demand $1 million,” said the premier, referring to a previous libel suit he filed and its symbolic damages request.

“When the verdict is definitive, freeze . . . [and] sell those assets. I heard that the party’s headquarters is in Sam Rainsy’s name, so sell the party headquarters at auction.”

The requested compensation is the same amount Rainsy accused the premier of bribing social media personality Thy Sovantha to attack the CNRP, in his comments that sparked the suit.

The premier called on former foreign minister Hor Namhong, who won a previous defamation against Rainsy, to push the courts for an injunction order to freeze Rainy’s “many assets”, which he noted also included land in Preah Sihanouk province.

He suggested Namhong and National Assembly President Heng Samrin, who has also sued Rainsy for defamation, push for compensation and reiterated he would donate any money awarded by the court to build houses for the disabled.

During the speech, the premier taunted Rainsy to come back and face “shackles”, and also warned CNRP lawmakers, who boycotted the session, that they could face pay cuts if they criticised yesterday’s vote, which was approved by 67 of 68 CPP lawmakers, with one absent.

He also said it was “necessary” to change the Law on Political Parties so that “someone who is found guilty [of a crime] does not have the right to be a president, or deputy president of a political party”.

“I request to change this,” said the premier, in a proposal clearly aimed at Rainsy.

Since fleeing to France in 2015 to avoid a two-year prison term linked to Namhong’s case, the CNRP president has been hit with several lawsuits and was in December sentenced to another five years in prison in a separate case.

Last year, the government officially banned him from returning to the country, saying it would cause instability.

In a statement yesterday, Rainsy called the threats “self-defeating”, noted the opposition “remains united”, and said he was “fully confident of leading the CNRP to victory in Cambodia” for the July 2018 elections.

“These threats show the panic of Hun Sen as his certain defeat in the communal elections of June 2017 and the legislative elections of July 2018 draws closer,” he said via email.

At a press conference at the party’s headquarters yesterday morning, CNRP chief whip Son Chhay slammed the CPP’s decision to amend Article 48 (III) of the parliament’s internal regulations, which provided for a “minority” leader.

As for the premier’s threat, he said the party wasn’t worried. “We have never thought citizens’ support is because we have these headquarters,” Chhay added. “Citizens support us because we have tried to push for reform.”

Speaking yesterday, head of government watchdog Comfrel Koul Panha slammed the premier’s proposals as “ridiculous”, saying they would negatively impact the legitimacy of the election.

Political commentator Ou Virak, meanwhile, said targeting opposition members’ finances could hurt the party but the move ultimately smacked of “desperation”.

An opposition lawmaker, who wished to remain anonymous, said he expected the premier’s threat was not a bluff.

“Who in Cambodia can stop it?” they asked. “No one.”

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