Prime Minister Hun Sen filed a second defamation and incitement complaint against political analyst Kim Sok yesterday, the same day a prosecutor denied the analyst’s request to postpone today’s questioning regarding the first lawsuit.
In an interview with Radio Free Asia on Saturday, while discussing the shortcomings of the Cambodian People’s Party, Sok mentioned the July murder of political analyst Kem Ley, which the premier took as an explicit accusation, prompting the first complaint. Ironically, it was Sok’s efforts to explain in a follow-up interview on Monday that his previous statement was not an accusation that prompted yesterday’s complaint.
His earlier remark that “they had killed people”, he said, in fact referred to “the system under the control of current government that causes a system which kills, there is killing and the murderers cannot be found – not only for Kem Ley, but also for previous activists”.
The premier, however, appeared to take the backtracking as adding fuel to the fire. After filing the second complaint yesterday, Hun Sen’s lawyer, Ky Tech, said that Sok’s statement negatively affected the government and, moreover, that “Sok . . . has a plan to induce public anger to cause turmoil in society”.
In the first complaint, filed on Monday, the premier is seeking half a million dollars in compensation, while yesterday’s complaint asks for just $2,500. Though defamation does not carry a jail sentence under the Penal Code, Tech maintained yesterday that “if the individual has nothing to pay, they [can] arrest and detain [him]”.
The Code of Criminal Procedure notes that imprisonment in lieu of payment within a set timeframe does not require a judgment, only a special order from the prosecutor.
Meanwhile, Sok is summonsed to the court for questioning about the first complaint today.
His request for postponement citing problems finding an attorney due to a lack of financial resources and seeming reluctance to argue a case against the prime minister was denied only a few hours after he left the court. Ly Sophana, spokesman of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, declined to give reasons for the decision.
Despite the two complaints, Sok said he would continue his work. “I will not run away and I will stay to confront the case . . . I will continue commenting on social and national issues.”
Ou Virak, founder of the think tank Future Forum, said yesterday that the complaint was unwarranted. “If he said something wrong, there should be some time for him to make a correction. We should show maturity in politics,” Virak said.
Director of the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies Moeun Chhean Nariddh, meanwhile, said the lawsuit would have a chilling effect on others who would criticise the government.
“Defamation cases should not be used to silence anyone. If you silence one person, hundreds and thousands of other persons will also be silenced,” he said, arguing that the general public lost representation if people were not speaking out.
“Cambodia now is a democracy, so we need . . . to teach people not to be mute.”
Though he maintained that the government had been “trying very hard to open up” towards criticism, he acknowledged that it was still not tolerant enough.
“They need to learn how to be patient,” he added.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that while the government respected freedom of expression, this did not grant the right to criticise someone without proof. He said the government was open to fact-based criticism and appreciated diversity of opinion, but did not accept defamation. “We do not allow harassment,” he said.
Meanwhile, activist monk But Buntenh yesterday announced the founding of the Kim Sok Social Foundation.
“We know that he will be in jail because he has two complaints against him,” he said, explaining that 80 percent of the funds collected would go towards social causes, and 10 percent each to Sok’s children and parents during any potential imprisonment.