A Supreme Court spokesman on Tuesday warned of legal action against the leader of the Khmer Rise Party (KRP) following critical comments over a court ruling in a long-running land dispute in Preah Sihanouk province’s Koki village.
Nov Mony Choat said in a press release that the court reserved the right to file a suit against William Guang – the Facebook name of KRP president Sok Sovann Vathana Sabung, who is also a member of the Supreme Consultation Forum – for publicly denouncing the ruling as unlawful.
Mony Choat said Vathana Sabung’s “misleading” Facebook post amounted to incitement and was intended to erode public confidence in the Kingdom’s judiciary.
“As a spokesman for the Supreme Court, [I] wish to clarify that the Kingdom’s courts at all levels accept reasonable, constructive criticism and are legally responsible for their [judicial] decisions, but we absolutely reject baseless attacks aimed at eroding public trust in the judiciary. We reserve the right to file a suit in accordance with Article 523 of the Criminal Code,” Mony Choat said.
He said Vathana Sabung’s Facebook post provided no proof to back his claims of an “unlawful ruling”. In contrast, he said, the ruling remains legally valid unless proven otherwise by relevant institutions.
Mony Choat stressed that the ruling in the land dispute had been through thorough deliberation involving 13 professional judges from the lowest court to the highest.
“In what capacity does William Guang denounce the court’s jurisdiction?” Mony Choat said.
According to the ruling, the disputed land in the village in Prey Nop district’s Bit Traing commune measured 71ha and had been bought and sold since 1993 by Heng Uy Hok, who had attempted to purchase it from nine families. But payment was not made in full, and the families ended the sale and continued to own the land. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of the families in 2017.
On January 24, around 200 members of provincial security forces implemented the ruling and were confronted by some 300 villagers claiming to own part of the land. The protesters burned tyres and threw Molotov cocktails to obstruct the authorities. A construction worker was shot in the shoulder in the confrontation.
The clashes have so far resulted in the dismissal of two deputy provincial governors, with other senior officials placed under investigation.
Mony Choat also rebuffed Vathana Sabung’s claim that the Supreme Court ruling unlawfully ceded state land to individuals for private ownership.
“[The Facebook] post was intended to mislead and incite the public in a bid to undermine public confidence in the court’s decisions as the land in question had been bought and sold with land titles issued by relevant authorities. It shows that the land did not belong to the state,” Mony Choat said.
He added that the court had fulfilled its duty by providing justice for the relevant parties in accordance with the law and the Constitution.
Mony Choat declined to comment further on Tuesday, referring reporters to the press release.
Vathana Sabung told The Post on Tuesday that he was unconcerned with the Supreme Court’s warning of legal action.
“[The press release] is within the court’s rights and beyond our authority. I’m not concerned because we have found clues of irregularities in the case. We have filed a report to the head of the government seeking an appeal against the [Supreme Court’s] ruling."
“In a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen, we raised the issue of irregularities, including the use of excessive force while implementing the ruling. The prime minister responded by ordering an investigation into the military and removing two deputy provincial governors,” he said.