Sourn Serey Ratha, president of the fledgling Khmer Power Party, announced at a press conference on Friday that he would sue Foreign Minister Hor Namhong for defamation and incitement after the minister described him and fellow party members as terrorists last week.
Mr. Serey Ratha, a longtime dissident who spent years abroad, was convicted earlier this year of incitement, plotting against the government, and obstructing elections, and sentenced to seven years in prison before receiving a pardon brokered by Prime Minister Hun Sen and returning to Cambodia to launch the Khmer Power Party. Several party members were also convicted of similar offenses and later pardoned.
During a press conference in Phnom Penh on Friday, Mr. Serey Ratha played an audio clip of Mr. Namhong speaking to reporters on December 7 about the CPP’s commitment to promoting political diversity.
“Especially the party of Sourn Serey Ratha in the United States of America, whose members have even committed terrorism in Cambodia, we also pardoned them and we want to strengthen multiparty democracy,” Mr. Namhong says in the clip.
Mr. Serey Ratha said he found the comments unacceptable and that he would sue Mr. Namhong if he did not receive a public apology for the accusation of terrorism.
“We cannot accept this, because by saying that there were members who committed terrorism, it is incitement to discrimination and it might make some supporters who are interested in joining the Khmer Power Party scared about being arrested or sentenced, because the government has accused them of joining a group that committed terrorism,” he said.
Mr. Serey Ratha said that if no apology was forthcoming, he would file suit against the minister at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court at 10:30 a.m. on Monday for defamation and incitement to discriminate. He said he would seek 500 million riel (about $125,000) in damages, which he would donate to the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospitals if he won the case.
He predicted that he had only a “0.000001 percent chance” of prevailing in the suit, but said he felt it was important to push forward with it to defend his party’s reputation.
“Leaders and officials of the Cambodian People’s Party have used this law, and they have always sued politicians and other people who criticize them over their public affairs,” he added, justifying his threat to sue.
Indeed, the suit, if launched, would be a novelty for Mr. Namhong, who has filed many defamation lawsuits over the years against those who have accused him of collaborating with the Khmer Rouge. Most recently, an arrest warrant was issued last month for exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy based on a conviction for defaming Mr. Namhong in 2008.
Chum Sounry, a spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, declined to comment on the matter.
“You can contact his [Mr. Namhong’s] lawyer, Kar Savuth, because I am not an expert in the law,” he said.
Mr. Savuth declined to comment.
Also at the press conference, Mr. Serey Ratha said he wrote to the Foreign Ministry this month to ask why Cambodia’s ambassador to Switzerland, Ney Samol, had used government letterhead to invite Cambodians living in the country to a dinner in early December to meet the prime minister’s son, Hun Manet.
Mr. Serey Ratha provided copies of the invitation letter to journalists at the press conference, and displayed pictures that he said showed Mr. Manet meeting with Cambodians in Switzerland in a room bedecked with CPP flags.
“Are [Cambodian] ambassadors in that area representatives of the Cambodian government or representatives of the Cambodian People’s Party?” said Mr. Serey Ratha, arguing the meeting had violated principles of diplomacy and fair play.
“If the Cambodian People’s Party travels to join the meeting abroad and has the right to use ambassadors to issue the invitation letter to invite the people to meet with their party, that means that other parties —the Khmer Power Party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party and other parties—when we have a meeting abroad, ambassadors also need to issue the same kind of invitation letter. It is only fair,” he said.
Mr. Manet could not be reached.
Mr. Serey Ratha said he had not received a response to his inquiries.