Cambodian opposition figure to appeal defamation verdicts

A senior leader of Cambodia’s main opposition party will ask the country’s Supreme Court to overturn his conviction in a defamation case brought by election officials and Cambodia’s ruling party, a defense attorney said Tuesday.

Son Chhay, vice president of the Candlelight Party, which won only 19% of the contested seats in local communes in June 5 elections, has authorized his lawyer to file an appeal, defense attorney Choung Chou Ngy told RFA.

“I am busy now, but if I can set aside one or two days, I will file the appeal,” the defense lawyer said, adding that he is still within the one-month deadline to file after the Appeals Court’s Dec. 14 decision upholding a conviction by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

In its ruling, the Appeals Court also ordered Son Chhay to pay $300,000 to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, or CPP, in addition to the $750,000 already awarded to the party in the lower court’s decision.

The CPP and Cambodia’s National Election Committee, or NEC, a supposedly impartial election monitor, filed a lawsuit for defamation against Son Chhay for saying that the June 5 vote for commune seats was marred by irregularities.

Candlelight candidates won roughly 80% of the 11,622 contested seats, outpacing Candlelight contestants by five to one.

CPP spokesman Sok Ey San told RFA that Son Chhay must accept any final ruling by the Supreme Court, and that the ruling party won’t negotiate with the Candlelight Party to settle the case.

“If Son Chhay files an appeal with the Supreme Court, he must abide by its decision and not complain against it. This has nothing to do with politics. If Son Chhay doesn’t insult anyone, there will be no problem,” he added.

Soeung Senkaruna — a spokesperson for the Cambodian rights group Adhoc — said that the Supreme Court should decide Son Chhay’s case on the basis of facts, law and evidence. Son Chhay’s claims of stolen votes were protected by his right to freedom of speech, he said.

“If justice is served, this will be good for the government and the ruling party because the international community will see that the government can defend democracy and the right to freedom of expression,” Soeung Senkaruna said in an interview.

If the Supreme Court rules against Son Chhay’s final appeal, the court may confiscate the opposition leader’s properties in the northwestern province of Siem Reap and in Phnom Penh — assets already frozen and blocked from transfer or sale by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

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