Candlelight’s Korm Sued for Political Speech, Questioning CPP’s Founding

4 min read
A screenshot of Kong Korm during a Jan. 7 speech in Tbong Khmum, from the Candlelight Party’s Facebook page.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party is suing opposition leader Kong Korm for incitement for comments he made about the party at a meeting he attended in Tbong Khmum province last week.

Hun Sen lambasted Kong Korm, who is an adviser to the Candlelight Party, for criticizing the CPP in recent speeches. In the same speech, Hun Sen threatened anyone who expresses an unfavorable view of his party with two outcomes: lawsuits or violence.

“Now, you choose among two options: implementing through legal means through the courts or I have to gather CPP’s people to hold demonstrations and go to beat you. Which one do you prefer among the two?” Hun Sen said on Monday.

That threat came to fruition on Tuesday when the CPP’s Tbong Khmum provincial committee filed a court complaint in the province against Korm, accusing him of incitement and violating the Law on Political Parties and demanding $500,000 in damages. 

The complaint cites a speech Korm made on January 7, which was reviewed by VOD.

The complaint cites quotes from Korm’s speech and says he spoke about the founding of the CPP and made oblique references to Vietnamese involvement in its formation. Korm was foreign minister under the Vietnamese-controlled government in Phnom Penh in the 1980s.

“I was told, when drinking water, to think about the source. The source is in the north, far away, to the east, and the one who planned it has a beard, a foreigner. Now, I will not recall anymore,” he said in the speech.

In contrast, Korm allegedly said that Candlelight — which was previously called the Sam Rainsy Party — was founded in Phnom Penh by “free Khmer democrats.”

He also indicated that the party hoped to win at least five of the eight seats in the province, using the word “change,” which was used as a rallying slogan by the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party in the 2013 national election, much to the consternation of the ruling CPP.

“So, does the Candlelight Party in Tbong Khmum commit to win five out of eight seats or not? Change or not change? Take it or not take it? How many? Five! Commit, commit!”

The complaint said Korm violated Article 6 new of the Law on Political Parties, which prevents parties from creating secession, sabotaging Cambodia’s “liberal, multi-parties democracy” or “incite to break up the national unity.”

It also alleges he violated Article 42 of the same law that includes fines and a prison sentence of up to one year. He is also accused of violating articles 494, 495 and 496 of the Criminal Code relating to incitement.

VOD could not reach Korm on Wednesday and a person at his residence said he wasn’t at home.

Tbong Khmum Provincial Court spokesperson Theng Cheang said the court received the complaint Tuesday and had forwarded it to the prosecutors’ office.

CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan said he had not yet read the complaint and was not aware of Korm’s speech but that the provincial committee would have sound reasoning for the complaint.

“It never has smoke without fire. There has to be fire for there to be smoke,” he said.

He denied that this was political suppression of the opposition, including similar accusations made by local NGOs.

Eng Sroy, who heads Candlelight’s provincial committee, said criticism of an opponent party was routine in politics and that the CPP regularly criticized or intimidated members of his party.

“What activities we have planned to do, we will continue to do them. We will not retreat. The important thing is that we do it legally. When we do it legally, we do it in line with democratic principles,” he said.

Korm’s problems could be compounded: The prime minister had warned him that land he lived on was property of the Foreign Ministry. The comment sparked an interview with government-aligned Fresh News Tuesday night in which former Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said that the land belonged to the state.

In response, Korm sent a clarification letter to Fresh News that he had been residing at the home since 1982 when he returned from Hanoi, Vietnam, where he was serving as Cambodian ambassador. He said Phnom Penh authorities gave him a certificate of residence in 1990, which was converted to a hard title in 2015.

This letter elicited a Facebook post from Hun Sen on Wednesday who agreed that he had given the land for Korm to live on but that he didn’t agree to hand over the land to Korm. He alleged that all the documents Korm said he got from official channels were forged.

“All of the documents prepared by Kong Korm to have ownership of that land is a forgery to get state land and the house as a private ownership,” Hun Sen said.

“The house and land is still under the ownership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and it is time for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take the house and land back if they have any requirements for the work of the ministry.”

Additional reporting by Khan Leakhena

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