The prosecutor’s office at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court questioned vice-president of Candlelight Party (CP) Son Chhay over his allegations made in a recent interview that the June 5 election “did not reflect the will of the people” and was marred by “threats, vote-buying and rigging”.
The interview was with the US-based Khmer-language online media outlet Cambodia Daily in the wake of the June 5 commune council election. Chhay stated that the voices of the voters were bought or stolen and that was the reason that so many seats remained with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
Chhay’s words prompted National Election Committee (NEC) officials – namely deputy secretary-general Som Sorida and senior committee member Dim Sovannarom – to take the unusual step of filing a defamation complaint against him with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on June 17.
The NEC officials claim Chhay’s statements “seriously damaged” the NEC’s reputation as the NEC actually fulfills its mission with independence and neutrality as determined by the constitution.
Prosecutor’s office spokesman Plang Sophal told The Post that the prosecutors had questioned Chhay, asked for clarifications and reviewed the evidence that Chhay’s lawyer had submitted to the court.
Sophal said that the prosecutor had not yet made any decisions regarding the case as he needed more time to review all of the evidence submitted to the court by the plaintiff as well as that of the accused.
After nearly two hours of questioning, Chhay spoke to reporters in front of the court building and said that because he is a politician he had spoke out against irregularities that he saw or heard reports of during the election and that it was his freedom to do so. However, the NEC was not happy with that and took the unprecedented step of suing him.
He continued that this complaint had wasted time that would be better spent by going down into the communities and meeting with the more than 2,000 commune councilors elected from his party in order to instruct them to serve the people.
He said that what he had told prosecutors was that the issues he had raised in the interview were based on facts and supported by witness statements released by his party as well as by those of four other civil society organizations that also witnessed irregularities.
“I told the court that what I said was not for political gain. I first became a lawmaker in 1993 and I know my rights. What I said was just me exercising my freedom of speech, which is not just for politicians – all Cambodian people have freedom of speech – as stated in our constitution,” he said.
Sorida one of the complainants, who also serves as the NEC’s spokesman, told The Post on July 12 that it doesn’t matter whether Chhay is a politician or not, he cannot insult a national institution by comparing it to a den of thieves.
“Such an insult should not be regarded as a simple matter and cannot be solved by negotiations or discussions intended to show them right from wrong,” he said.
He said Chhay’s case was not a matter of freedom of expression; rather it was an act of defamation and must be dealt with by the court. He urged Chhay to re-evaluate his words and language in order to see what is right and what is wrong.
Regarding Chhay’s assessment that the case was a waste of his time, Sorida said that Chhay was just trying to downplay his own mistakes and that it wasn’t as simple a matter as he might think.
The CPP also filed a lawsuit against Chhay, claiming that he had publicly made “misleading comments” regarding CPP conduct during the commune council elections and asking the court to prosecute Chhay and award the CPP damages of one million dollars in compensation.
Chhay is due back in court again on July 15 for questioning in response to the CPP lawsuit.