A U.S. judge ruled on Thursday that a lawsuit filed by jailed CNRP official Meach Sovannara against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s eldest son, Hun Manet, for “torture through arbitrary, extra-legal and long-term detention” could move forward, a lawyer for the opposition figure said on Friday.
Mr. Sovannara, who is a U.S. citizen, is serving a 20-year prison sentence in Cambodia for charges widely perceived to be politically motivated. In April, his lawyers asked that Lieutenant General Manet and the Cambodian government face trial for damages resulting from Mr. Sovannara’s imprisonment.
During the lawsuit’s first hearing, Judge George Wu of the U.S. District Court of California in Los Angeles ruled that the case should move to the next stage of “jurisdictional discovery,” said Morton Sklar, Mr. Sovannara’s lawyer.
“In short, Judge Wu accepted our argument that jurisdictional discovery was the best method for obtaining factual information on the case,” Mr. Sklar said in an email.
“The result of this order is that it will open the door to securing important information disclosure from the Hun Sen government that has not been available before,” he said.
Although the case is still in a preliminary stage, Mr. Sklar said the ruling illustrated that the lawsuit had a “no nonsense judge” who was taking the case “very seriously.”
The lawyer told Radio Free Asia that the order paved the way for the Cambodian government to either cooperate with the court, or automatically lose the case.
“The government of Cambodia and Hun Manet have a choice: Either they can agree and let the court-ordered jurisdictional discovery proceed, so that we can ask these questions and get the answers, or they could say: ‘No, we’re not going to participate in this,’ in which case, under the court rules, they have automatically lost the case and we have a verdict against both the government of Cambodia and Hun Manet,” Mr. Sklar told the broadcaster.
The Cambodian government last week sent a notice to the California court acknowledging that it had received the complaint, which means it is now an official party to the case, Mr. Sklar said in an email.
“This is the first step in the right direction towards holding the Hun Sen government accountable in the United States courts,” he said.
Contacted on Friday, government spokesman Phay Siphan said he had “no idea” how Lt. Gen. Manet—tipped by many to be his father’s successor—or the government would respond to requests for information.
Neither Lt. Gen. Manet nor his lawyer could be reached.
The April filing claims that the premier’s son, a graduate of the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, was responsible for the violence that took place in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park in July 2014, and for the subsequent arrest and imprisonment of Mr. Sovannara. The CNRP official received a 20-year sentence after being found guilty of insurrection due to his presence during the protest that descended into a street brawl between opposition supporters and government security guards.
The military and security forces that Lt. Gen. Manet oversees “were principally involved in maintaining order at the political demonstration in Freedom Park on July 15, 2014, [and] the attacks that were directed against the civilian demonstrators at that protest event,” the filing states.
That filing marks the first time that Lt. Gen. Manet has been accused of having a role in the violence, but offers no evidence to back up the claim.
In a related investigation, police in California have opened a case into allegations that Lt. Gen. Manet’s bodyguards attacked process server Paul Hayes as he attempted to hand court documents to the prime minister’s son outside a Long Beach restaurant in April.