Appeal Court Increases Son Chhay’s Defamation Damages to $1M

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Candlelight Party politician Son Chhay speaking to press after meeting with 23 opposition figures imprisoned at Prey Sar on Wednesday, August 17, 2022.
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The Appeal Court on Wednesday upheld defamation charges against opposition leader Son Chhay and increased the damages and fines he owes to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and National Election Committee.

Chhay, who is the vice president of the Candlelight Party, was sued by the election body and ruling party for comments he made on a news talk show alleging irregularities in the 2022 commune election. The plaintiffs pointed to Chhay’s use of the terms “vote buying” and “stealing” in their complaints. 

The lower court found Chhay guilty of defamation in October and fined him $2,150 and $1,900 in the NEC and CPP cases, while ordering him to pay $750,000 in damages to the CPP. The NEC did not ask for damages in its complaint.

The Appeal Court in Phnom Penh on Wednesday upheld Chhay’s guilt in both cases and increased his fine to $2,500 in each of the cases. The judges also upped the damages to be paid to the CPP to $1 million.

The lengthy Appeal Court hearing ended after 6 p.m., with Chhay and his lawyer, Choung Chou Ngy, leaving the court before the verdict was delivered.

Judge Suos Sam Ath said he was only reading out the verdict and would attach the court’s reasons for the ruling to a final verdict order.

In the appeal, Chhay was challenging the entire lower-court verdict, while Phnom Penh prosecutor Plang Sophal had filed for an increase in fines and CPP lawyer Ky Tech wanted the court to increase the damages to the ruling party.

Ket Khy, one of Son Chhay’s defense lawyers, told VOD that the decision was an injustice.

“It is not appropriate. It is unfair for my client. … We will prepare a complaint to the Supreme Court,” Khy said.

Last month, the Phnom Penh court issued an order temporarily seizing two of Chhay’s properties, a house in Phnom Penh’s Toul Kork district and another in Siem Reap province.

Rights groups and election observers have noted election irregularities during the June 2022 ballot, especially the intimidation of opposition candidates during the campaign and the presence of state officials not on election duty around polling stations during voting.

The Appeal Court was also expected to hear a retrial in the case of Kak Sovannchhay, who is the son of a jailed CNRP activist, but delayed the hearing to Friday. The 18-year-old was convicted of incitement and public insult for messages sent in private chat groups.

Additional reporting by Nat Sopheap

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