The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) branch in Tbong Khmum has filed a complaint against Kong Korm, a senior adviser to the Candlelight Party (CP), to the provincial court seeking $500,000 in damages. The lawsuit claimed that Korm’s recent political messages were intended to incite the public and cause social insecurity.

The move came after Prime Minister Hun Sen made a January 9 warning to any political parties that “slander” the ruling party ahead of the upcoming July parliamentary election.

“In recent days, some political parties have launched attacks on the CPP … If you keep attacking my party, I reserve the rights to defend it – through the legal route if necessary,” he said.

The premier singled out Korm, warning him to stop attacking the CPP.

“You are welcome to test whether or not I would dare to handcuff a traitor. But I assure that I would stop at nothing to protect the hard-won peace that the Kingdom currently enjoys,” he said.

According to the complaint lodged by the provincial CPP committee – represented by Seng Cheyvuth, deputy head of the CPP’s Tbong Khmum youth working group – Korm delivered his “slanderous” speech at a public forum in the province on January 7, when the CPP celebrated the 44th anniversary of the Victory over Genocide Day.

The forum was held as part of the CP’s inauguration of its Tbong Khmum provincial branch, located in Tbong Khmum district’s Mong Reav commune.

“Kong Korm’s comments clearly reflect the dishonest intent to incite the public and cause chaos, unrest and social insecurity,” Cheyvuth stated in the January 10 complaint. “I request that the prosecutor investigate, indict and sentence Kong Korm to the fullest extent of the law, and order him to pay $500,000 in damages to the CPP’s Tbong Khmum Provincial Committee.”

Korm told The Post on January 11 that the party’s lawyers were looking into the complaint.

“During the forum, I used the slogan ‘When drinking water, think about its sources’ and ‘When sheltering under a tree, think about who planted it’. I did not incite anyone, or use defamatory language,” he said.

He explained that the slogan were aimed at reminding people that the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements were the source of the Kingdom’s multi-party democracy.

During his speech, he also used the phrases “wanting to win” and “wanting to change”.

“These phrases serve to as motivation for the CP to try and win seats in the National Assembly. There is nothing wrong with asking the party’s supporters to believe in our desire to affect change. More importantly, there was no attempt to foment unrest,” he said.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said he was not aware of the specific case, but believed that lawsuits would follow any abuses and violations of the law, regardless of where it took place. The CPP maintains a presence in every province and district, he warned.

“It is not possible for offenders to act however they like. The prime minister, who is the president of the CPP, has specifically warned that no one should slander the party, or attempt to spread mistruths,” he told The Post.

Yong Kim Eng, president of the People’s Centre for Development and Peace, said that “politically motivated” complaints could lead to tensions and cause rifts between the supporters of rival parties.

“Politicians should be able to speak with one another and find resolutions to these kinds of conflicts. There should be clear rules for what kind of criticism should be levelled and what should not,” he told The Post.

“This is important. In the past, many politicians have had clashes that had dragged on for years – even outside of the electoral cycle. In order to avoid repeated drawn-out court cases, politicians should establish common principles for their conduct. This will avoid dividing the nation and wasting the time of the judiciary,” he added.

Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the right to freedom of expression is a “colourful flower” that makes any society “more democratic”. False statement and senseless provocations, however, could only lead to legal action or lawsuits.

“In the case of Kong Korm, I believe the plaintiff is well within their rights to lodge a complaint. Obviously, it will be up to the Kingdom’s independent judiciary to decide if there is sufficient evidence to convict him,” he told The Post.

“As far as I can see, the wording of the complaint does not make it look like Korm was seriously attempting to provoke unrest. But as I said, it is the right of the plaintiff to file the complaint, and it will be up to the court to decide on the outcome,” he added.