Former Deputy Prime Minister Lu Lay Sreng, who has been abroad since October, has been summonsed to appear in Phnom Penh Municipal Court for a defamation hearing on January 25.

Lay Sreng, 77, was sued for defamation by his former party, Funcinpec, and Prime Minister Hun Sen for comments made in a secretly recorded private phone conversation.

In the call, Lay Sreng accused Hun Sen of bribing Funcinpec to go along with a plan to have the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s seats in the National Assembly redistributed to Funcinpec.

The royalist party filed the initial complaint against the CNRP accusing it of trying to overthrow the government. It then benefited from the main opposition party’s dissolution by receiving 41 of its seats in the National Assembly.

Lay Sreng was also initially accused of insulting King Norodom Sihamoni after calling him a “castrated chicken” for not taking action over the ongoing political crackdown. He fled the country after Hun Sen and Funcinpec pledged to file lawsuits against him and is now in the United States.

After the suits were filed in October, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana filed a motion to the court asking it to take “urgent action” and mete out a “strict” punishment over the “serious insult to our majesty the King”.

Legal analysts and experts have criticised the suits, claiming that defamation only applied to comments made in public, and that insulting the King is not actually prohibited by law.

In the court order seen yesterday, only defamation charges are outlined, with no mention of insulting the King.