Son Chhay Defamation Cases Sent Directly to Trial

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Candlelight Party vice president Son Chhay speaks to reporters after questioning at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on July 12, 2022. (Hean Rangsey/VOD)

A Phnom Penh court prosecutor has decided to formally charge opposition leader Son Chhay for public defamation in two cases, with his lawyer saying the cases now proceed to trial.

Chhay had been questioned by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court last month over comments he made in a media interview where he claimed votes were stolen during the June 5 election. Two separate lawsuits were filed: one by the ruling CPP and another by the National Election Committee, both alleging the same crime of defamation.

Phnom Penh prosecutor Plang Sophal issued two documents on August 9 charging Chhay with public defamation in both lawsuits. He pointed to Chhay’s admission that he made those comments and contents of the interview that matched Article 305 of the Criminal Code for defamation.

The prosecutor also assessed evidence provided by Chhay and his lawyer to support the former’s comments and found that they were only claims made by some civil society groups and had no clear and comprehensive grounds to show the election was tainted in any way.

VOD could not reach Chhay on Friday despite multiple attempts to reach the vice president of the Candlelight Party.

Choung Chou Ngy, a defense lawyer for Chhay, told VOD on Friday morning that he knew about the charges and that the opposition leader was ready to face the court.

He said the case was not complicated, a misdemeanor charge and since a lot of the evidence and testimonies had already been presented to the court there was no need for more investigation and they were now waiting for a trial date.

“I think the charges against him are not appropriate because he did not defame the NEC or defame the ruling party,” he said.

Thach Setha, another vice president at Candlelight, said Chhay was only trying to critique the election process to improve it and that courts should not penalize such expression.

“I think these complaints benefit nothing at all. It makes them more condemned and loses more national honor. Especially the NEC, as well as the ruling party,” Setha said.

Som Sorida, an NEC spokesperson, said the election body was only protecting its image and could not be counted as free expression.

“If the NEC did not respond to insults against a national institution to end all accusations, public insults, or public defamation that this institution is a thief and has taken no action, it means that the NEC accepts the accusation of being a thief,” he said.

The CPP has asked for $1 million in its suit and the NEC wants a public apology from Chhay.

This story was updated on October 4 to correct the date of the June 5 commune election.

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