Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday sued CNRP President Sam Rainsy and an opposition senator for accusing him of ordering last month’s fatal shooting of popular political analyst Kem Ley, the latest salvo in the government’s ongoing legal barrage against the opposition.
Recent court cases have already landed two lawmakers in jail, sent Mr. Rainsy into self-exile and driven CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha into hiding inside his party’s headquarters. The latest suit against Mr. Rainsy comes on top of the one Mr. Hun Sen promised on Sunday against opposition Senator Thak Lany.
“We filed two complaints,” the prime minister’s lawyer, Ky Tech, told reporters outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday.
“The first complaint is against Her Excellency Thak Lany, who said at a public forum in Ratanakkiri province that the prime minister killed Kem Ley. The second complaint is against Sam Rainsy because His Excellency Sam Rainsy posted messages on Facebook saying that the death of Kem Ley was an act of state terrorism.”
On Sunday, a CPP spokesman accused Ms. Lany of defamation. Mr. Tech would not name the alleged crime on Monday, but said the prime minister was seeking a mere 100 riel in compensation, or about 2.5 cents.
The text of the complaint filed on Monday, however, raises the prospect of a far more serious charge of incitement, claiming that Mr. Rainsy’s posts might “anger people and could provoke social chaos.”
“The important thing is that [Mr. Hun Sen] wants to be cleared of blame,” Mr. Tech said. “The second thing is honor. Her Excellency Thak Lany and Sam Rainsy twisted the truth, and that affects the honor of [Mr. Hun Sen] and the honor of the government.”
The prime minister has disavowed responsibility for Kem Ley’s murder, but his denial appears to have done little to reverse widespread public opinion that the government was behind it.
The popular political commentator was gunned down inside a Phnom Penh convenience store on the morning of July 10. The man arrested for the shooting claims to have been taking revenge for a $3,000 loan Kem Ley was refusing to pay back, but many appear to be convinced that it was his frequent—sometimes biting—criticism of the government that did him in.
The day of the shooting, Mr. Rainsy took to his Facebook page to call it “another act of state terrorism.”
He used his page again on Monday to double down on the accusation.
“I believe that the government is behind the criminals who gunned down Mr. Kem Ley,” he wrote, “in the same way it was behind the grenade attack in 1997 that killed at least 16 people, and in the same way it was also behind the assassination of Mr. Chea Vichea in 2004 and that of Mr. [Chut Wutty] in 2012. All these acts of political violence pertained to state terrorism.”
Mr. Rainsy did not reply to a request for comment on Monday, and spokespeople for the opposition could not be reached.
The complaint against Ms. Lany stems from a speech she gave to opposition supporters in Ratanakkiri, her home province, on Friday.
In a video of the event posted online the next day by the CPP-friendly Fresh News service, the senator can be heard saying that Mr. Hun Sen “shot at Kem Ley” for speaking out about allegations of corruption against his family.
Ms. Lany could not be reached on Monday.
On Sunday, however, she denied having accused the prime minister of ordering the hit and claimed the audio of the recording had been edited to make it sound as though she had.
The senator said she would send a reporter the full recording to prove her claims, but has yet to do so. She said that the full recording had been posted to her Facebook page, but as of Monday night it did not appear to be there.
The complaint against Mr. Rainsy is the third defamation case to embroil the opposition leader in the past year.
In November, the municipal court issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Rainsy over a years-old conviction for defaming then-Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in 2008, prompting him to decide not to return from a trip abroad he was taking at the time.
And last week, the court convicted Mr. Rainsy of defaming National Assembly President Heng Samrin for claiming—falsely—that Cambodia’s government in the 1980s, which Mr. Samrin was leading, had sentenced King Norodom Sihanouk to death.