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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - PM warns opponents away from lawsuits

PM warns opponents away from lawsuits

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Hun Sen appearing at a graduation ceremony on Wednesday.

Hun Sen says verdict against Mu Sochua a lesson to critics.

PRIME Minister Hun Sen has spoken out for the first time about his recent legal victory over opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua, which he said should serve as a warning to anyone else who might consider suing him.

"If you want to play legal games, I will also play legal games," he said during a graduation ceremony at the Royal University of Law and Economics on Wednesday.

"If you play political games, I will also play political games. And if you play military games, I will also play military games."

Hun Sen said he would be able to silence all opposition voices "in only two hours" if he decided to use force rather than file complaints in court.

"You wouldn't be able to run," he said. "All of you would be arrested."

On August 4, Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Mu Sochua guilty of defamation and ordered her to pay 8.5 million riels (US$2,028) in fines and 8 million riels ($1,909) in compensation to the prime minister.

The case stemmed from a speech Hun Sen gave on April 4 in Kampot province. Mu Sochua, a Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian, said the premier made derogatory references to her in the speech and filed defamation charges against him.

Her case was thrown out, but Hun Sen's countersuit was allowed to proceed, resulting in last week's verdict.

The prime minister's legal attack - along with other defamation suits launched against the government's critics - drew sharp criticism from a number of groups, including the European Union, which said they represented a weakening of democracy in Cambodia.

"External groups, please listen closely," Hun Sen said during Wednesday's address.

"If you do not sue me, then I will not file a countersuit."

Hun Sen went on to criticise civil society groups as "servants" and "spokespeople" for opposition political parties.

Commenting on the current Cambodian People's Party majority in the National Assembly, which was further cemented during last year's elections, Hun Sen said he could continue serving as prime minister even if the CPP lost 10 seats in both the 2012 and 2017 elections. "So, all of you opposition groups, check your age," he said.

"However long you can live, I can accompany you to the end."

Strong reaction
Hun Sen's comments drew criticism from both opposition politicians and civil society actors. SRP lawmaker and spokesman Yim Sovann said it was inappropriate for the premier to talk about using the military against the opposition.

"If he wants to use the armed forces to fight a broader enemy, that is fine, but to fight opposition parties is not right," he said.

Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha said there were many issues - including poverty, land disputes and corruption - that could potentially bring down the CPP so long as elections were free and fair.

"Whether the CPP wins or loses depends on the election system," he said.

Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Centre, said Hun Sen's comments about civil society groups misrepresented their work in Cambodia.

"We have worked with everyone," he said. "We have worked with the ruling party more than the opposition party."

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