Prime Minister Hun Sen has accused Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy and opposition Senator Thak Lany of “slander” and “incitement” in two separate legal complaints filed yesterday in response to comments linking him and his government to the murder of political analyst Kem Ley.
The lawsuits, lodged at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court by the premier’s lawyer, Ky Tech, call for the pair to face punishment according to the law, accusing them both of affecting the premier’s “dignity” and stoking public “anger” and “unrest”. However, the suit calls for just 100 riel in compensation.
The complaint against Rainsy accuses the opposition leader of slandering the government, and thus, the premier, and sparking incitement by describing Ley’s killing as “state-backed terrorism” in a Facebook post soon after the critic’s murder at a Phnom Penh gas station on July 10.
Rainsy’s post asserted that the analyst was “assassinated” because he represented a political threat to “the other side”.
The premier’s complaint also notes that Rainsy reiterated the accusation in an interview with Radio Free Asia on July 23 and that his comments suggesting government involvement have since been shared online and seized upon by social media users.
Meanwhile, the case against Thak Lany, a Sam Rainsy Party senator, concerns remarks she allegedly made to supporters last Friday in Ratanakkiri, which suggested more directly that Hun Sen was behind the shooting of Ley at a gas station in Phnom Penh on July 10.
Lany says the video showing the remarks has been edited and that she did not accuse Hun Sen of involvement in the murder, allegedly carried out by former soldier Oeut Ang, who was arrested shortly fleeing the scene.
Noting the intense publicity around the case, and that the authorities have already arrested and charged a suspect, the complaint says Lany had “slandered” the premier by “putting the crime blindly on . . . Hun Sen”.
“[This] not only affects seriously the dignity of Samdech Techno Hun Sen, who is Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia but also has characteristics of incitement in order to inflame the anger of the public that can cause unrest in society and affect the procedure of the court,” it reads.
While defamation is not a criminal offence, an incitement conviction carries jail terms of between six months and two years, under the Cambodian Criminal Code.
Lany, who was unreachable yesterday, presently enjoys immunity as a senator, though Hun Sen told local reporters last week that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party could easily strip the constitutional protection as it controlled two-thirds of the Senate.
Rainsy, however, was ousted as a lawmaker and stripped of his immunity by the CPP last November after fleeing into self-imposed exile to avoid arrest following the reactivation of a conviction in a 2008 defamation case brought by ex-foreign minister Hor Namhong.
Since then, the CNRP leader, who did not respond to requests for comment, has been hit with several legal cases, widely considered politically motivated, and was last week convicted of defaming National Assembly President Heng Samrin.
Speaking yesterday, CNRP spokesman Eng Chhay Eang said the party was “not surprised” by the lawsuits, which he called an attempt to suppress such accusations.
He added: “What is important is that the government investigates to find, and bring to justice, the real killer and those involved; then the public will calm down, the family will receive justice, and the accusations finish.”
Police say they are continuing to hunt for more suspects.
Though Ang said in a video confession released only hours after his arrest that he killed the analyst over a debt, many, including the suspect’s family, doubt that motive.
On Sunday, a police spokesman acknowledged the suspect had been “hired” as part of a plan.