The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on October 7 delivered a verdict in the defamation case against Candlelight Party vice-president Son Chhay, ruling against him in the lawsuits filed against him by National Election Committee (NEC) and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

Chhay had been sued by the NEC and CPP for public defamation in connection with his allegations of irregularities in the June 5 commune council elections. He claimed in an interview that the election “did not reflect the will of the people” and there were “threats, vote-buying and rigging”.

CPP sued Chhay demanding compensation of roughly one million dollars.

According to the verdict, Chhay is required to pay a fine of nine million riel ($2,160) to the state and must make a public apology to the NEC.

For the CPP’s complaint, Chhay must pay an eight million riel ($1,922) fine to the state and make a public apology to the CPP. He must also pay compensation of three billion riel ($721,120) directly to the CPP.

Choung Chou Ngy, Chhay’s defense lawyer said that the court ruling was unjust.

“I will discuss with my client whether to file an appeal against the complaint,” Chou Ngy said.

Before the court issued the ruling, Chhay said on October 7 that he would appeal the court decision should he lose.

Chhay defended his comments prior to the verdict by saying that it was a matter of freedom of speech to express his opinions and his only goal was to improve the electoral system.

Soon after the court verdict, the NEC issued a statement, saying that the court’s decision clearly showed that Chhay’s claims of vote rigging and irregularities were totally unfounded.

“Through the ruling of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court today, the NEC established its innocence and regained the honour and good reputation for the name of a national institution,” the NEC said in a press statement.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said that the loss of the court case by Chhay was a reminder for him and other people to carefully toe the line between their freedom of speech and the rights of other people and that the verdict provided justice for the CPP and NEC.